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Gender Testing: Tracing sexism, racism and discrimination in sports

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By Gaurav Sharma

Following her coronation as national champion, an Asian Games bronze medallist and becoming the first Indian sprinter to reach the finals of a global athletics event at the tender age of 18 years, Dutee Chand was riding the wave of success with much elation.

Less than a fortnight before the start of the Glasgow games, the tiding wave quickly whip-lashed the Odisha-born athlete’s dream run and landed her as a forlorn figure caught in the mire of gender discrimination.

Humiliation & Passive Discrimination

Dutee Chand, like the South African sprinting sensation Caster Semenya, was heartbroken at the shocking news of her natural levels of testosterone, a natural growth hormone found in the bodies of all humans, matching levels of those found in males.

What followed was humiliation at the hands of reporters, fellow athletes and international sporting officialdom. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the world governing body for track and field events, banned the emerging athlete for failing the hormone test.

After her career was put on a hold for almost an year, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) revoked IAAF’s findings and gave a fresh lease of life to her stifled young career, though not before side-lining her for almost an year-a considerable period in the short-spanning career of track and field athletes.

During the cataclysmic period, Dutee Chand missed both the Asian and the Commonwealth games and was advised to undergo a ‘corrective’ treatment, a reference to hormone suppression and genital surgery.

Alluding to the devastating impact the ruling had on her mental equilibrium and athletic performance, Dutee Chand told BBC, “I was completely shattered when I was banned. My performance deteriorated steadily. I was pushed to third position in the national athletics meet in Bangalore.”

History of Gender Testing

The decision by CAS to suspend IAAF’s “hyperandrogenism” rules (a case of excessive production of testosterone) for 2 years came in the backdrop of the organization of “Let Dutee Run” campaign by 5,646 signatories in tandem with media support.

However, the contentious issue of gender testing has been challenged by gender activists, biologists and researchers alike since the last decade. In Dutee Chanda’s case, Dr Payoshni Mitra was the vanguard who galvanized mass sympathy for the athlete, whose family belongs to a weaving background.

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Gender activist Piyoshni Mitra with Dutee Chandra (right)

Historically, gender testing arose in the wake of men masquerading as women in international sporting events (the earlier known case of which was German high jumper Dora/Heinrich Ratjen in 1936 Olympics).

To prevent circumvention of men faking as women, the International Olympic Committee(IOC) initiated ‘gender verification’ in 1968. What began as an embarrassing dropping of underwears transmuted into a sophisticated checking of X and Y chromosomes.

As per the genetic system, XX stand for women and XY for men. However, classifying sex into two categories based on the combination of chromosomes means a denial or alienation of the “hermaphrodite” or the intersex people as part of the natural order of being.

Moreover, cases of genetic syndromes or mutations are not unheard of. In 1985, Spanish hurdler Maria Jose Martinez-Patino had to fight a three-year pitched battle for her right to compete as a female after she was told that she was an ‘XY’ male.

By the time Patino convinced the world that her Y chromosome was due to the insensitivity of her blood towards testosterone, her glory days were behind her. Between 1972 and 1984, 13 women failed the gender tests at Olympics, tests which were suspended by the time the 90’s era started except in cases of extreme suspicion.

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Spanish hurdler Maria Jose Martinez-Patino

In the 2006 Asian games, Indian middle distance runner Santhi Soundarajan failed the gender verification test and was subsequently stripped of her medal.

Unanswered questions

After Caster Semenya burst onto the sporting arena and won the 800 meters final at the World Athletics Championships in 2009 with a record margin, the IAFF gave in to public perception regarding her masculine looks and subjected her to gender tests (a move which drew much criticism from former athletes).

In 2011, the IAAF went a step further and asked an expert working committee to frame a plan for women with excess androgenic hormones, substances which generally define the gap between males and females.

However, what fails to meet the eye is the ambiguity surrounding what defines the ‘normal’ levels for men and women.

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South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya

The IAAF, in conjunction with IOC, defined the upper limit of testosterone for females as 10 nanomoles per litre blood, based on which investigations could be launched into such allegations.

Here again, the IAAF failed to miss the crucial point that such a complaint could be launched by rivals with vested interest or an anomaly could erupt in the test itself. The question of whether the athlete is benefitted from elevated levels testosterone can be beguiling because, as seen in the case of Maria Jose Martinez-Patino, the high levels can act like a mirage, giving a false perception of reality. And meanwhile, the athletes become ineligible to compete.

Katrina Karkazis, a Stanford University bioethicist who has been tracking the cases of testosterone testing, smells a deeper rot of sexism and racism behind the incrementing cases of gender discrimination in sports.

“The Indian and black African women are often suspected of simply not conforming to white western standards of what a woman should look like. Think Serena Williams and the execrable talks surrounding her ‘masculinity’”, Karkazis says.

Increasingly, young women travel from the developing part of the world to the western shores in order to comply with the sport’s rules on what “normal” female genitalia should looks like. That women should be subjected to genital surgery and hormone therapy is discriminatory, keeping in mind that men athletes are never subjected to such intense gender scrutiny.

Moreover, institutionalised genital mutilation is a scary concept, something that Dr Payoshni Mitra affirms with.

As far as notions of possessing unfair advantages goes, professional sport has been inherently dominated by those wielding such natural gifts. From the eagle-like wingspan of Michael Phelps to the cheetah-like fast legs of Usain Bolt, sport has never been fair. It is a mix of both natural talent and physique and hard-work and effort that define a champion.

Michael Phelps, the US swimmer
Swimming legend Michael Phelps’ eagle wingspan

In this regard, the policy adopted by IAAF is not based on scientific evidence, but rather on “scientific consensus” that testosterone levels determine athleticism.

Although questions relating to the effect of testosterone persist, what cannot be denied is that the disqualification on such grounds encompasses broader issues of sexism, racism and discrimination.

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Paris inaugurates International bidding for 2024 Olympics

The Paris 2024 Bid Committee has marked a milestone in its bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games with a special presentation here

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Pixabay Paris

France, Feb 4, 2017: The Paris 2024 Bid Committee has marked a milestone in its bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games with a special presentation here.

The event was participated by Paris 2024 leadership, top athletes, political and business leaders.

 Speaking at the event, Paris 2024 Co-Chair Tony Estanguet said Paris has launched the bid 18 months ago, the bidding team has put athletes at the heart of the plans and has developed a compact plan with 85 per cent of venues being within 10 km, Xinhua news agency reported.

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Details of the ultra-compact, city-centre inspired concept were the highlights of the candidature file the bidding team submitted to International Olympic Committee.

Paris’ 2024 has a bold vision to deliver the most sustainable Games ever, with 95 per cent of venues either pre-existing or temporary structures, in addition, a ground breaking carbon emissions strategy closely aligned with Olympic Agenda 2020 and the Paris Climate Agreement is also under plan.

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Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo said Paris embodies a belief in the human spirit and an absolute commitment to protect the environment.

“Paris has always stood on the cutting edge of progress and that is why the Games in Paris will be the first ever to be aligned with the Paris Agreement,” she said.

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The event also defined the city’s approach to legacy which will see Paris 2024 Olympics become a model of sustainable development, innovation and social purpose.

The Paris 2024 bid will also build on the city’s global leadership and the positive role sport can play in society to deliver legacies for future generations and to be shared with future host cities. (IANS)

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Twitter Troll: BJP MP Udit Raj’s tweets about inspiring athletes misunderstood as an advocacy for eating beef

BJP MP Udit Raj eats his words on the controversial 'Usain bolt winning medals after eating beef' tweet

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BJP MP Udit Raj. Image source: IANS
  • BJP MP Udit Raj feels sad that his tweet on eating beef was misconstrued and misunderstood
  • He recently tweeted about Usain bolt winning 9 medals after his trainer advised him to eat beef
  • Raj said that he wanted to send a message to athletes that they can excel even in adverse circumstances

New Delhi, Aug 29: BJP MP Udit Raj on Monday clarified that he did not advocate beef consumption when he quoted Usain Bolt’s coach as advising the Jamaican sprinter to eat beef but his comment was meant to inspire Indian athletes that they can excel even in adverse circumstances. The MP said he was saddened to learn that his views were more misunderstood than understood.  ”I did not comment on anything related to consumption of beef, but only reproduced a statement from Usain Bolt, which is now being misconstrued and misinterpreted by some media outlets to say that he advocates the consumption of beef,” Udit Raj said in a statement.

On Sunday, Raj tweeted: “Usain Bolt of Jamaica was poor and (the) trainer advised him to eat beef both the times, and he scored nine gold medals in Olympics.”  After the tweet went viral, the Lok Sabha member from Delhi clarified his stand.  ”I cited (the) circumstances of Jamaica that despite poor infrastructure and poverty, Bolt won nine golds. So our players should find ways like that to win,” he posted on his Twitter handle. Raj said he only wanted Indian players to look for the best means to post wins in games rather than blaming circumstances and the government. He also said that eating was an individual choice.

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“As Usain Bolt and trainer found ways and means to win medals, similarly our players and trainers should also do as per their circumstances,” the Dalit leader said. Later, Raj also issued an statement to elaborate his views and put an end to this “artificially created controversy”, saying it was his personal opinion.”My tweet was meant to inspire Indian athletes that they can excel even in adverse circumstances,” Raj said, adding that he was well aware that food habits cannot be dictated to anyone, both as per our social traditions as well as per the provisions of the Constitution.

Raj said that he wanted to send a message that giving excuses will not take us far as the union government as well as the state governments and various PSUs are doing a lot to promote sports in the country. “It is not right to just blame the government for our poor performance in the Olympics. The message that I wanted to send was that it is necessary to have a killer and winning instinct and one can excel even in adverse circumstances, and hence it is not right to just blame circumstances,” he said.

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However, he added: “It is true that in some cases, the government is unable to provide all necessary facilities to budding athletes, but it also true that thousands of recruitments are made by the Government of India, state governments and PSUs to promote sports, and athletes are paid hefty salaries and given all facilities and freedoms to pursue their careers.” (IANS)

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Sexist, Bigotry tweets by Celebrities garner media attention during Rio Olympics 2016

Compilation of Indian celebs who got trolled hard on twitter for their nightmarish tweets on female Olympians and remained the click bait’s favorite for the longest time

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Rio 2016 Olympics
source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Compilation of sexist, bigotry tweets by people of significance garners media attention during the summer Olympics 
  • Shobhaa De remarks on athletes taking selfies while Sanal, while an independent director eats his own words on PV Sindhu’s celebration back home
  • Many awkward comments were made by announcers during the game which shows feminism has a long way to go

August 25, 2016: If sexism thrown in subtly by the NBC broadcaster’s on the U S women’s gymnastics team didn’t do the trick for your scandalmonger mind or if the Chicago Tribune’s headline “Wife of a Bears lineman wins Bronze” didn’t add the ‘desi’ (Indian) male chauvinism tadka then fret not, we have a compilation of all Indian celebs who got trolled hard on twitter for their nightmarish tweets on female Olympians and remained the click bait’s favorite for the longest time!

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  • Shobhaa De

When a well-known columnist for Mumbai Mirror, veteran novelist and philanthropist, types in words like “Goal of Team India at the Olympics: Rio jao. Selfies lo. Khaali haat wapas aao. What a waste of money and opportunity,” expect all hell to break loose. Many people were lashing out at her with nothing but blood on their mind. After all, no bad deed goes unpunished in the world of netizens.

After a series of beautifully worded quips thrown at her, she finally broke her silence and during a discussion with a leading news portal said, “There was absolutely no malice intended. It was said out of a sense of panic. At that point it really did look like we were going to come back khaali haath… When I tweet, I don’t calculate…Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. This time obviously it backfired.” De certainly doesn’t believe in an unadulterated wholesome public apology to the well-deserved Olympians.

  • Omar R. Quarashi

If there was anyone who could beat the infamous Shobhaa De tweet, it had to be a Pakistani Journalist. Unlike the above socialite, he didn’t stop at one tweet but went with the number 4 when it came to spitting venom about Rio Olympians. The notorious tweets came in when India was celebrating Dipa Karmakar’s excellent performance and Sakshi Malik’s bronze.

Omar R Quraishi tweets
Omar R Quraishi tweets

Needless to say, shots were fired. Not only by the regular twitterati’s but also by the Big B himself

Mr. Bacchan replied to Omar's tweets.
Mr. Bacchan replied to Omar’s tweets.
  • Sanal Kumar Sasisharan

Why should Dipa and Sakshi have all the fun? Sadly, PV Sindhu, first Indian women to win a silver at Olympics wasn’t left alone. An independent filmmaker from the south who was awarded the Best Director trophy by the Kerala State Film Awards recently mocked Sindhu by posting this comment on Facebook “Everybody is celebrating Sindhu. Makes me want to spit(throw up). What is there to celebrate so much?”

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Sanal Kumar's FB Post
Sanal Kumar’s FB Post

However, there was damage control, the director immediately clarified that he didn’t intend to defame her and he’s a women supporter

  • Ram Gopal Verma

These tweets by RGV make us wonder if twitter should start suspending celeb accounts while they clean up terrorist profiles from their networking site.

https://twitter.com/RGVzoomin/status/767567153931354113

https://twitter.com/RGVzoomin/status/767565018502164480

Looks like RGV stands unimpressed with the nation’s victory.

  • Piers Morgan

Last but definitely not the least, Mr. Piers Morgan everyone.

If you assumed that only Pakistan or Indian nationals could belittle Indian Olympians, you stand corrected my friend. Here we have, Piers Stefan Pughe-Morgan, a British journalist and television personality, who as I type this is being mercilessly trolled by everyone, literally.

– by Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram. Twitter: @BladesnBoots

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