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Mari Haugaa Engh is an associate professor in gender, equality and diversity studies, at the centre for gender and feminist research. She got her PhD from Aarhus University in Denmark (2014) and her masters degree from the University of Cape Town (2010). She has previously worked as a postdoctoral research fellow (2015-2018) and lecturer (2017-2018) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. She is a transdisciplinary gender scholar with a special interest in sport and physical activity, migration and transnationalism, and postcolonial feminist theory. Mari has conducted research on sport and development, equality and inclusion in football, international sports labour migration, religion and migration, with a particular focus on South Africa and Scandinavia. She currently works on questions related to whiteness, racism and diversity in Norwegian sports, racialisation and sex/gender testing in international elite sports, and gender and sexuality in African women’s football.
“The myth of the average woman”: racial practices and the white gaze in elite sports
On 1. May 2019 the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced its decision to uphold IAAFs regulations regarding testosterone levels among women athletes. At the centre of the trial, and the surrounding media debate was Caster Semenya – South African middle-distance runner from South Africa, who has spent the last 10 years fighting for her right to compete at the highest international level of athletics. In this presentation I will focus on the debate about so-called “gender testing” in sport and explore the ways in which understandings and assessments of sex/gender are fundamentally racialised, in a way that privileges the white female body. The limits for inclusion of women in sport are expressed and maintained through the figure of the “average woman”. This average woman is a figure that symbolises what is considered normal, and she is the basis of comparison in scientific assessments of sportswomens sex/gender. The figure of the “average woman” is based on the idea of a binary gender system, but also illustrates how this system in itself is a racialised structure. The binary sex/gender system draws on an idea of gender dimorphism and essential biological differences where the boundaries, and deviance, has historically draw along racial lines.
Keywords: Gender, race, gender testing, the white gaze, elite sports