The issue of gender testing in sports has hit the headlines again. South African runner Caster Semenya has become the subject of considerable speculation about her gender after she went to Berlin and claimed the world championship in the 800m, crossing the line at 1:55.45, two seconds faster than her nearest rival.
A number of athletes and commentators have cried “foul” and demanded that Semenya prove her sex to the IAAF, who announced that she had already been tested and that the results would later be announced. Rising above the phobic and cruel rhetoric of the press, her competitors and the track authorities, her family and supporters speak frankly of her boyish body and express anger at the way questions about Semenya’s gender have been handled. In this interview posted on The Guardian’s website, her father quite proudly defies the narrow minded to assert that his daughter looks “just like me” and “is a woman.” She grew up playing football with the boys, being teased for being a “tomboy,” etc. And, her family and friends chime in together, she is a woman.
She is, quite clearly, a gender warrior and the case of Caster Semenya raises the question of what it is we are looking for when we segregate men’s and women’s sports. Earlier this year, I looked at the same issue in soccer, which is worth revisiting here now.
Playing with boys
In 2004, Mexican National Women’s Team superstriker Maríbel Dominguez was signed to a two-year contract with Celaya FC, a second division men’s team. FIFA stepped in with an official prohibition and the assertion “There must be a clear separation between men’s and women’s football.” The memo furthermore forbid her from playing in exhibition games with the men’s squad.
My question today is why “must” the separation between men’s and women’s football be “clear”?Maríbel Dominguez