chapter  5
9 Pages

Boundaries of certainty

Sport is a field where records and measurement count. It matters that times and speeds are accurately measured in athletics, especially given the high rewards that are now involved. Other sports demand visualisation and filming techniques and heat-sensitive equipment as well as additional human resources; cameras at the wicket in cricket, at the touch line in rugby to adjudicate tries amidst an ever more voluble demand for more and more accuracy to judge outcomes, ensure fair play and redress the inadequacies of the human eye and the lack of all-round vision of the referee. Technologies are constantly developing more sensitive and precise means of ensuring accuracy to ever-higher standards of precision. These developments are inspired by the expanding technoscience that is the motor to much sporting innovation and the quest for certainty. Certainties are interpreted in different ways in particular sports

but these developments are all framed by the expectation that sport is a set of activities that can be accurately measured and about which there can be a high degree of certainty, especially

given modern technologies. Pharmaceutical companies are developing more complex drugs, for example, that can be used to mask the effects of the performance-enhancing drug taken in the first place. The regulatory bodies of sport such as the IOC and IAAF, in spite of their global reach, cannot keep up with the market-led advances with which the drug companies are engaged. There are tensions between, on the one hand, the movement for ever more vigilant monitoring and brave, idealist attempts to eliminate what is construed as cheating and, on the other hand, the recognition that all elite athletes are involved in a highly sophisticated programme of enhancement through nutrition, training that is physical and psychological and a panoply of interventions that defy the attempts of the regulatory bodies of sport and blur the boundaries of legality. Sport is not a fair playing field. The search for certainty and truth also targets the bodies of

athletes, notably in relation to sex gender, because in sport there are two sexes whatever the ambiguities in the wider cultural terrain of contemporary life, and in terms of performance enhancement by whatever means, but mostly pharmaceutical. The other area of concern that is closely linked to the matter of performance enhancement in this quest is the evaluation of the disabled or able-bodied athlete; an area in which technological advance has created more not less uncertainty. In the context of sex gender, certainty is to be achieved

through what is now called gender verification. Gender verification tests happen regularly at the Olympics and it is universally a test carried out on women; there is always the suspicion that a woman who performs to a very high standard or has the musculature or body attributes of masculinity might be a man who is cheating. One of the most controversial recent cases was that of Caster Semenya, the South African 800metre runner. In August 2009 the Berlin World Athletics Championships

were shaken by controversy. Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old

from South Africa, won the 800-metre title by nearly 2.5 seconds, finishing in 1:55.45. Only 3 hours after winning the gold medal, Caster was at the centre of a harsh, very public contestation concerning her gender. A bitterly disappointed Italian runner, Elisa Cusma, who finished sixth, was reported as saying that Caster was really a man. Cusma was not the only confused commentator on the case, as is evident in the enormous coverage given to the 800-metre gold medallist Caster Semenya. She was fast, so fast that other athletes questioned whether she was a woman, leading the IAAF to instigate gender verification tests, albeit in a procedure that, contrary to guidelines, was leaked before the final at the World Athletics Championships in August 2009. The case started badly with the victory of the athlete being so quickly followed by this procedural offence by the IAAF in disclosing information about the tests prior to the results. Perhaps ironically, Caster Semenya did not break the 800-metre record of 1:53.28 that had been set by the Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvila in 1983. Kratochvila too had been subjected to chromosomal sex testing at the Olympics in 1980 on grounds of her strongly muscled shoulders, arms and thighs. There are significant endurances in the experience of women athletes, although the Semenya case achieved considerable significance because of the volubility and visibility of the debate and its condensation of so many diverse factors. Women athletes have to reassure us of their femininity,

through comportment (Young, 2005) and appearance, even when they, through the body practices of their sport, necessarily have very different bodies from their female non-sporting counterparts. Public debate is always framed by a moral discourse of ‘fair play’ that invokes the unfair advantage that men who pass as women might gain in sport, but what is most alarming and distressing about these cases is the humiliation that women undergo in being subjected to ‘verification’ and the public and expert scrutiny that is reserved for women, and detracts from celebratory possibilities of the achievements of elite women athletes.