Why It's Time For Sports To Adopt The Third Gender

Caster Semenya's case shows that the sport world must have an open debate about intersexuality, and finally step up.

Caster Semenya competing in Doha, Qatar on May 3, 2019
Barbara Klimke

"Hell no": This is how double Olympic champion Caster Semenya responded to the news that she will have to take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she wants to compete again in women's races. New rules by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which come into effect on May 8, have been criticized as discriminatory.

The South African middle-distance runner says she won't take any medication even though the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected her appeal against the IAAF's new regulations. Up to 1.7% of the world's population are born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations. This means they have both male and female characteristics. Semenya is a woman but she was born with the intersex trait of high testosterone.

In most countries around the world, intersex people come up against discriminatory rules that assign them one gender or another. In Germany a landmark ruling paved the way for an intersex identity law that allows people to choose the "diverse" category on documents.


MUNICH — Soccer recently took the lead: In the Germany v. Serbia men's friendly match in March, toilet doors of the Wolfsburg Arena had unisex signs. Offering visitors a "gender-neutral stadium experience" was praiseworthy, but only the first step. The second must be to effectively move the issue from the toilets to the playing field.

The amazing thing about the intersexuality debate, about fluid boundaries between the sexes, about the impossibility of making a clear classification, is the fact that it has hardly ever taken place in sport. You can see still the two letters (F and M) on Wolfsburg Arena door signs. Of course, the November 2017 ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court on the third gender concerns sport too.

Germany v. Serbia game — Photo: Firo Sportphoto/Ralf Ibing/DPA/ZUMA

Now, no one may have felt the urgency to be able to select three European champions, for example in the categories M, F and Diverse. But South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya's challenge against discriminatory hormone treatment was pending for months before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Exactly because this story illustrated a complicated situation and attracted worldwide attention, it would have been desirable that clubs and associations, committees and other bodies here in Germany had thought about the situation better.​

Semenya's case presents itself as a kind of classical experiment.

It's true, track and field is better suited than other sports for such a debate on such basic principles. Because of the nature of running, Semenya's case presents itself as a kind of classical experiment: Distance, time and a body moving from start to finish. We do not have to consider more than these three components; there are no hurdles, no pirouettes, which may affect the overall performance. If there is a need for action, such as the introduction of different competition categories, then track and field is perfect.

And this is a big "if" — because perhaps the belief prevails that the old way is better. Only it is not a good idea to wait for the next case to come up. The third gender is a reality in sport — from the stadium bathrooms to the competitors on the field.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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