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Opinion - Masilingi, Mboma must be celebrated, not regulated

2021-08-17  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Masilingi, Mboma must be celebrated, not regulated

We cannot expect Polish second-rate retired runner Marcin Urbaś, who grew up eating marshmallows, cornflakes and Zurek, to understand the hardships of an African child fetching water over tens of kilometres by feet or herding cattle across long fields. 

Urbaś, a little retired runner with no serious athletics history at world level, recently demanded that tests should be conducted on Mboma to determine if she is indeed a woman.

Not only is it sad and shocking to witness a grown-up criticising and comparing himself to teenagers who have gone through hardships in pursuit of their athletics dreams, but his point of departure is akin to questioning the virility of African men and arrogantly comparing their ability to that of European women. 

We cannot ignore Urbaś demeaning stance and uninformed opinions about Mboma, because those are the very same underlying sentiments shared by most of those in decision-making positions and institutions within the European circuit. 

Those who share the same sentiments as Urbaś are the exact same people who adopted the rules that banned our girls and many other African female athletes with so-called naturally high testosterone levels from partaking in competitions ranging from 400m to a mile. For them to compete in those events, World Athletics requires them to take testosterone-reducing drugs.

These rules continue to trample upon their human rights and their dignity as women. Dignity is related to respect and as human beings with dignity, we expect and accord respect to others. Dignity is also related to agency - one focuses on what people are able to do, not on their passive satisfactions.

Finally, dignity is equally related to equality for all humans but in the world of sports, African athletes are not offered the same equality as their European counterparts. In the case of Namibia, we once upon a time had our sprint legend Frank Fredericks as apart of various important committees of numerous world athletics organisations, but one wonders what people like Fredericks and other prominent Africans close to influence did to oppose the introduction of such discriminatory rules, especially when they were first tested on South Africa’s Caster Semenya. 

On 8 September 2020, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (SFC) rejected Semenya’s appeal against the rules, a decision that was also earlier upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In a nutshell, that means European courts are condoning those discriminatory rules.

In the CAS decision, the court ruled that restrictions on permitted levels of naturally occurring testosterone were discriminatory but that such discrimination was “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” for achieving track and field goals of preserving the integrity of female competition.

Success in elite competitive sport is the product of both genetic and environmental factors. There are numerous genetic variations and mutations associated with physical performance. Indeed, the significant role that genetics play in determining sporting performance means that sport is inherently not fair. 

The world celebrates the genetic differences that make athletes such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Serena Williams great. Thus, those genetic differences should be celebrated in the same way – a vital point that Semenya also argued before CAS. It is illegal and unnecessary to regulate one genetic trait while celebrating all the others.

Ironically and hypocritically, the same people allowed transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand to compete with women at the recent Tokyo Olympics. Hubbard, a man who transformed himself into a woman, was allowed to compete with women in the 87kg event but still failed to progress after registering three no lifts.

2021-08-17  Staff Reporter

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