Sarah Gronert recently found herself dogged by the controversy when some of her opponents raised the question about her so-called masculine advantage as a result of her being bornt with both male and female genitalia.
On July 6, 1986, a family in a little town of Germany welcomed a baby girl into their small world. This 'welcome', however was with a little twist of fate. The biological condition of the baby did not confirm with the stereotypical traits of any new born. It was realised that the infant has both male and female genitalia and that in medical terms, the baby comes under the category of 'intersexed' people.
19 years later that girl underwent a similar scrutiny - this time from fellow players as Sarah Gronert, a WTA Tennis Professional and World No. 555 currently, faced bitter remarks and criticism from both players and their coaches for having an unfair advantage, as a result of her biological condition.
The story goes back in time when Sarah was a budding player in her early teens. The constant locker room comments made it almost impossible for the German player to continue competing in the circuit. Instead, she decided to deal with the situation, and at the age of 19, had her male genitalia removed to become a biological woman completely. As per the certifications from the gynaecologists, Gronert is a woman and therefore should be able to carry on in any profession as a female.
The decision did not fetch Gronert much of a relief as her performance came under the scrutiny with fellow players alleging her of having unfair advantage of masculine powers. Disturbed by the whole controversy surrounding her gender discourse, Gronert almost decided to leave the career she so dearly dreamt of. After careful consideration, Gronert, like a true champion, chose to fight back and brought her case into the notice of WTA officials. The medical delegate reviewed the case and came to the conclusion that on the basis of proofs presented by the player, she satisfies the eligibility criteria required to compete in the women's game.
In addition to this the WTA spokeswoman said - Under the WTA Tour's rules, if there is "any question as to the eligibility" of a player, the WTA has the right to "require a player to submit to gender verification to determine sexual status".
"The Tour's gender determination rule is similar to the International Olympic Committee's rule, and under this rule, Gronert is allowed to play Tour events as a female. Sarah Gronert is legally and biologically a woman, and as such perfectly entitled to compete in ITF Pro Circuit events and, at some point if her ranking warrants it, in WTA Tour events," the WTA officials confirmed.
Sarah recently reached the career high of World no. 555 in the Sony Ericsson WTA singles rankings and as a result re-ignited the controversy. Her triumph at the Raanana tournament in Israel brought a flurry of verbal attacks by players and fraternity cynics. "There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams," said Schlomo Tzoref, coach to a fellow competitor that Gronert beat on her way to winning the title. "When I heard her story, I was in shock. I don't know if it's fair that she can compete or not. She does have an advantage, but if this is what the WTA have decided, they probably know best."
As if all this was not enough that the rising tennis star was also questioned about her playing techniques. "This is not a woman, it's a man. She does not have the power of a woman and no woman has such a technique," Tzoref said.
Well if technique is the case, Martina Navratilova should have been accused of playing the atypical serve and volley game, whereas most of her contemporaries preferred to stick to the baseline. Such allegations only bring to the fore, the narrow approach that surrounds the modern sport.
Similar is the case of Indian star athlete Santhi Soudarajan, who was stripped off her Asian Games silver medal for not passing the gender test. The Olympics Council of Asia reviewed the case and came to the decision that since the player does not meet the requirements to compete in the women's game, she should be stripped off her medal. The Indian Olympics Council, went a step ahead and released a statement condemning the player's attempt to deceive the sporting world.
There have been many such instances where similar discrimination has hit the headlines. The most classic of such cases was the refusal of the United States Tennis Association to allow Renee Richards ( born Richard Raskind ) to compete in the U.S. Open. Dr. Renee Richards, a post operative transsexual women, who had undergone the sex change operation in the 70's to align her body with her mind, sued USTA for not allowing her to play as a result of her not being a biological woman and after careful consideration, the United States Supreme court ruled that Ms. Richards had the legal right to compete as a woman in the world of professional tennis. Subsequently, Richards got an opportunity to play at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships and made it to the doubles final that year. Richards reached the career high ranking of 22 and also won the Over-35 women's singles title the same year. She also served as a coach to tennis legend Martina Navratilova later in her career, helping her to win two of the nine wimbledon singles crowns.
Gronert's opponents have fumed a somehow valid discussion about the increasing scientific interventions in the world of sports. Today, we are witnessing many cases of gender re-assignment like the one of Mianne Bagger, a professional golfer who underwent the sex-change operation to become a woman and is legally allowed to compete in the women's game.
It won't be very distant future when the scientific advancements will result in parents asking for 'tennis-designer' babies ready to compete in an already cut-throat competition. Would the crowd really cheer upon the wins of such tennis-gene(d) players or would it be Science Vs Science? With such scientific manipulations (or should we call it scientific abuse), would the rules that depend on the scientific certificates be really valid?
Although, with her ranking and game improving with every tournament passing, Gronert looks destined to crack into the top 100 soon, yet in a world where Amelie Mauresmo was commented upon as 'half-a-man' (because of her looks and the fact that she was accompanied by a female friend once during the Australian Open ) and Williams sisters were blamed for making the sport 'tedious', Gronerts of the world need to be mentally prepared to face the challenges, both on court and off it...!