blades…of carbon fibre; or shaving?


I write today of on two combined topics, one of which I understand very little, and the other a fair bit. I wish to discuss openness, and argument, and that most tricky of ideas, if you get special treatment; what about everyone else’s right to get that same treatment?

I have written only once before on a ‘sporting’ topic, and landed both David and myself in hot and deep water because I didn’t know the difference between ‘special’ and ‘ordinary’ Olympics that I hesitated to try once again, but since most of you already accept that ignorance is a virtue, I thought I’d give it another try!

In sport, it usually is all about ability, then training, then motivation. Whether in football, rugby, cricket, baseball (or rounders, if you prefer the English version), even American football, which comes complete with more body-armour than the average Star Wars Imperial Guard, the competitor is judged on whether he plays as part of a team, and that is how it should be. The pressure is subtly different on individual activities, such as athletics, cycling, swimming, where there are team competitions, but usually between individuals striving to be the best. Apart from those whose successes are chemical-based, the majority of athletes compete totally on their individual abilities, on training, on their will to win. Personally, I just don’t get it, this urge to ‘be the best’, to win at any price; there are always the pretty things, the cash, the girls or the men, the baubles which are awarded those who triumph; but there again, not too many people are like me.

I wrote that I would speak of openness, and the first name on my very short list is that of Oscar Pistorius, the South African who refused to acknowledge the very word ‘disabled’, and set out to prove that he was as good as any other runner, even though he didn’t have all the equipment usually required of runners, namely legs. Technology ‘stepped in’, if you will excuse the pun, and Oscar comes equipped with flexible carbon fibre blades attached to his upper thighs, blazing a trail through disabled track meetings. Here comes the problem, because Oscar wishes to compete, and indeed does so in ‘able-bodied’ events. The simple truth about our Oscar is that because he is so open; well one could say that he would be hard-pressed to camouflage those high-tech legs, he should be allowed to compete on merit. His relay team race in Daegu came third, and against completion such as the Americans, that was not a bad result at all. One of his opposition athletes even stated that he had ‘no problems’ competing with the carbon fibre-equipped South African.

There is, however, no signs of that same ‘openness’ when it comes to Oscar’s fellow South African, Caster Semenya. This athlete sprang on to the world stage giving supercharged performances and blowing her opposition into the dust, which is where the problem commences. Her performances were, in many eyes, too good to be true; and the problem is that many of those eyes are on the same track as hers. There have been tests, and checks, and leaks of those results; but all the opposing athletes are told is, ‘she is qualified to run, end of questions’. Now there are just too many queries, too many voices, to allow her, if Semenya qualifies to hold the title of ‘her’, to go on without many more opposing voices speaking out. To quote one of her track opponents.  “For me, she is not a woman,” and as long as those sentiments are expressed, the opposition to her running as a woman will continue.

It is true that in these days of gender reassignment technology, the choice is hers, but the feeling still holds that while she may have female sex organs, she also might well have strong hermaphroditic tendencies as well. She bulks up as a man does. She has many of the same characteristics as a man, such as broad shoulders and a tapering physique, but her Grandma mutters, ‘she is a girl, and I ought to know!’

As one Lesbian commentator stated, “Perhaps her commitment should be taken as one more step towards the removal of sex as a barrier in competition?”, and folks; perhaps her view is just as valid as mine!

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