How do we talk about Gender in Sport?

Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula during the South Africa's  off
Rio Olympic 800m Champion Caster Semenya and Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula. Courtesy of South African Government under Creative Commons License.

The controversy regarding Caster Semenya has ignited a hotbed of commentary about the nature of gender in sport since her appearance on the international athletics scene in 2008.

Semenya, the fastest 800m woman in the world and an easy winner of this year’s Olympics event, was subject to testing in 2009 regarding the possibility of being Hyperandrogen – a trait which refers to excessive testosterone within women. IAAF were fearful of drug use by Semenya because unique muscular build, despite the fact that Semenya’s build is a naturally occurring condition.

The speculation regarding this was played out in the media meant an athlete was subject to discussion about her gender in the supposed name of athletic fairness.

South African athletics organisations actively attempted to hide the nature of the testing from Semenya, a decision that admitted caused great hurt to Semenya.

However, the broader issues regarding this need to be questioned. With the increasing emergence of LGBTIQ issues on an international level, are sports organisations ready to acknowledge Non-Binary, Genderqueer and Trans people? Are media organisations ready to move beyond binaries and discuss the possibility that gendered categories, the most common form of classification in sporting events, are not only outdated but actively preventing some of the best in the world from actively competing?

Having watched some of the media discussion about the Eddie McGuire-Caroline Wilson drowning joke scandal play out in Australia, it remains to be seen whether the traditionally male dominated field of sports commentary is capable of dealing with gender, as sometimes it still seems incapable of acknowledging equality between two genders, let alone multiple genders. This isn’t good enough and has to change.

However given the inclusiveness that sporting events such as Olympics and Paralympics seek to promote, surely it is a matter of time before we make room for Queer and Trans people to be more involved.  A sporting spectacle that involves everyone has to be more entertaining for all of us?

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