The Olympics are a chance for the world to watch history unfold as athletes continue to set new records and push the limits of athleticism. For many, it is a patriotic event to see which country can deliver the most medals. People from all over the country gather together to watch their contingent represent them on the international stage.
With all the focus on the competition, the athletes are often an afterthought. There is very little coverage of the immense pressure and struggles that Olympic athletes face. This is one of the reasons why LGBTQ+ athletes continue to advocate for change, claiming their voices are not being addressed.
The Gender Divide
In 2009, Caster Semenya won a gold medal for South Africa in the women’s 800-meter. After her astounding win, she faced major pushback from the media, the public, and other athletes alike.
Although having never discussed her gender identity in public, her body had become a talking point for many media outlets and organizations questioning her anatomy. She was made to take tests, the results of which indicated she had higher than average testosterone levels.
In 2016, the IAAF developed a new policy dictating that all runners with testosterone levels above a certain threshold must take medication to lower it in order to compete in women’s events.
The comparison between how society responds to athletic success of a nonbinary athlete and a cisgendered athlete demonstrates why the LGBTQ+ community feels suppressed in the realm of sports. When a cisgendered world-renowned athlete sets records, the media will focus on their diet, training and determination. Alternatively, when a non-binary athlete does the same feat, the results are deemed “suspicious” and the situation is investigated.
Diversity In The Olympics: The Path Forward
Olympic athletes and sports advocates claim that situations like that of Caster Semenya are very common in sports. Teams are divided into men’s and women’s leaving out groups that do not identify within the gender binary. Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masillingi were prevented from running in this year’s 400-meter women’s event due to elevated testosterone levels — a story that mirrors Caster Semenya’s win in 2009.
That being said, the Olympics diversity and inclusion efforts have made progress, and this year marks the first time that transgender athletes were allowed to compete. New Zealand’s weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, and Canada’s nonbinary soccer player Quinn, are challenging the stringent standards for gender. Quinn has gone on to become the first nonbinary athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics after team Canada won the women’s soccer event. They are pioneering a paradigm shift to a world where sports is inclusive of all groups.
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