The Subtle Gravity of Mandela’s Gift

20131206-081133.jpgNelson Mandela has died. The news comes across, by any medium, from any lips, as something we have to pause to consider with awe and disappointment. It was a privilege to share some of the time this great soul lived on this Earth, and it is a sad day for the world that he is no longer among us. The reasons for this are much talked of, but the subtle gravity of his gift to us may still be too little understood.

We know of the persecution he suffered, the atrocious and unconscionable treatment he endured, only because a cruel regime wanted to silence his principled cry for justice and fair treatment. We know of his commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and the unshakeable wisdom with which he pushed that vision, not only in his own country, but into the wider world.

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Semenya Case Shows Complex Ethics of Fairness in Sport

Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old track-and-field phenomenon from South Africa, is a woman whose hormonal chemistry is unusual for the average adult female. Test results are reported to show that her body naturally secretes three times the normal female levels of testosterone, the dominant “male” hormone, which some competitors say gives her an “unfair advantage”.

The issue has raised perhaps the most serious challenge to the notion of fairness in sport, and to conventional attitudes about gender. For instance, should Semenya be weaker than she is, if she were “fully” female? Is that idea in itself not demeaning to women? Is there even a specific provision in international sporting regulations that requires women to be notably weaker than or slower than men?

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