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The mysterious case of Santhi Soundarajan and other stories

Posted by Sports Snob on December 26, 2006

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Another Asian Games came by and went, and India managed to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Not much of a surprise actually, considering that is what they have been doing at every global sporting arena. Thank goodness that the weightlifters were barred from taking part this year thanks to their past sins, else they would have hogged a major part of the headlines (still for the wrong reasons) themselves. But if there was one incident, or ‘news-item’ that made Seema Antil, the Indian hockey team etc’s efforts at infamy pale in comparison, it would be the gender bending act of Santhi Soundarajan.

Sportswomen being accused of masculinity is nothing new. The dawn of the 20th century saw women taking part in sports on a scale far larger than ever before. And soon enough, you had the ‘femininity’ of some highly successful female athletes being questioned. Sometimes, as in the case of Martina Hingis famously calling Mauresmo ‘half a man’ because she came to the Australian Open ‘with her girlfriend’, sportswomen were taking a dig at their own ilk. Rumours are rife that this might be the case with regards to Santhi as well, what with reports going around that it was a teammate of hers that complained to the authorities that caused the gender test to be taken. It’s a pity, really. There have been instances in the past of a ‘man’ competing as a woman and getting away with it. Take for example Stella Walsh, who as any good sports quizzer will tell you won Poland the gold in the women’s 100m race in the 1932 Olympics only to be discovered at her autopsy much later in 1980 that she had underdeveloped male genitalia and XY chromosomes. Stella’s case was also the one that led to a general agreement in the sporting world that one’s chromosomal gender need not always be an indication of one’s social/biological gender, and by the time of the 2000 Olympics, compulsory gender testing had been done away with.

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Another reason why it is a pity is that no one can begrudge Santhi her hard fought achievements. Born to poor, rural and uneducated parents, and having lived all her life as a girl, she wouldn’t have given much thought to the fact that she did not have menstrual cycles like a normal woman, as she would have dismissed it as some medical aberration that would cost her a lot of money, that she could not afford, to probe deeper into, and instead concentrated on the one thing she did best, and knew that one day would bring her glory, i.e. run fast. What is a mystery to many is that Santhi had actually passed the gender tests of AFI without any hitches. This is only points out to the fact the outdated (though probably a better indicator of gender) physical examination method is what is prevalent in India and not chromosomal testing. For all its hi-funda science, chromosomal testing singles out female athletes whose genetic make-up, though not ‘normal’ gives them no unfair competitive advantage. And not to mention the psychological harm post-disclosure caused by gender testing in general.

The Santhi incident has prompted the introduction of gender tests at the National Games in Guwahati in a couple of months’ time. And this time, they are going the chromosomal way. May not be the morally right thing to do, but at least this keeps them in line with what is done internationally, and thus prevent another Santhi from happening, which would be good for both Indian athletics, and more importantly the athlete would not have face public humiliation at this large a scale.

Hockey

Indian hockey continues to reach new lows with every tournament. The Asian Games at Doha was a disaster. For the first time in the history of the Asian Games, India has finished outside the top three. While it is true that we are no longer a world power, it is a rude shock to be informed that we are not even among the top Asian teams. India was beaten by China. Now, that is a news headlines that would have evoked laughter a few years back. But China is now showing us that they are a force to reckon with. They beat
India in the group stages and then beat the other super power, Pakistan in the semi-finals.  

I think it is time for KPS Gill and his bunch of cronies to leave Indian Hockey alone. They have done enough damage. And Mr. Gill has the audacity to say, “10 bad minutes cost us the match”. We seem to have 10 bad minutes in every game. The Australians, the Dutch know that India is a dangerous team in the first half. The last fifteen minutes expose the lack of stamina and absence of alternate game plans. It is also disheartening that Indians haven’t adapted well to the new style that the Europeans practice. And to top it all, our selection policies leave most hockey fans scratching their heads in confusion. Why a player like Viren Rasquinha wouldn’t play is beyond me.  

The lack of consistent performance and official indifference to the plight of hockey, the constant chopping and changing of coaches, regional bias in team selection are disheartening. The hope now is, we can only go one way: up.

Am sure the readers of this blog would not have expected an article with so much ‘sex’ and tragedy in it. But then such is sports.

Thejaswi Udupa and Prof

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