Friday, February 25, 2005

Gender Confusion in sports

The news of a female athlete from Zimbabwe actually being male caught my eye. I can remember watching some of last summer's Olympics are swearing up and down that one of the female runners was a man. It wasn't so much her face, as also her body. But a friend watching with me convinced me that this relatively well known track star just looked male, but was really female. Well, now I am not so sure. An article in the Herald revealed:

The world athletics body no longer conducts gender determination tests, and the Olympic movement ceased these in 1999. The International Olympic Committee legally recognises transsexuals provided hormone therapy ceased at least two years ago. Sport in Britain was relieved a year ago when the Gender Recognition Bill was amended to allow UK sports bodies to decide, case by case, whether individual transsexuals should be allowed to compete. Now they must meet medical criteria and live in their new genders for at least two years before applying for a new birth certificate.

Last year I read Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, Middlesex. It's the fascinating story of a a hermaphrodite who was raised as a girl until he was a teenager when it was discovered that he was genetically a boy. Hermaphrodism is a condition that affects more people than we realize. Most hermaphrodites decide which sex they will be, and live their lives according to it. And this was the case with the Zimbabwean, Samukaliso Sithole. It was decided when s/he was younger, most likely by her parents, that she would be female.

However, it troubles me that in recognizing such a condition, sport commitees are giving an unfair advantage to those atheletes who are genetically male, but consider themselves female, and compete against other females. It is slightly reminiscent of the scandal at the Para-Olympics, when it turned out that some of those competing weren't handicapped in any way, shape or form.


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