Questioning women’s genders: the ongoing repression of women athletes of colour

Category: Woman — A film about the lived realities of women athletes deemed men because of their achievements 

In coordination with four other Concordia groups, Cinema Politica organized its weekly screening of renowned political documentaries with the film Category: Woman, on Oct. 17. 

The film, directed by former olympian Phyllis Ellis, relates the story of three women athletes from around the world who are condemned for their achievements: Caster Semenya from South Africa,  Dutee Chand from India, and Annet Negesa from Uganda.   

Surpassing other women in their categories or breaking records made them objects of an investigation into their gender. They were accused of being male and had to undergo medical examinations. 

While the media put into question their gender, they were attacked from all sides. 

The accused women were deemed to have a higher than “normal” testosterone level and were told they needed to medically alter their bodies to continue to compete.

“They told me it was a medical evaluation, but they did a series of tests to test my testosterone levels,” Negesa said. 

Phyllis noted that “women were prohibited from competing because they wanted to create a so-called level playing field” with other women. 

This is known under the name of the hyperandrogenism controversy. 

While some of these athletes changed categories, others like Annet had to undergo surgery to reduce testosterone levels in order to continue to compete in their sport. 

“I am a female, I was born a female, I will race as a female,” Negesa stated in the Q&A. 

After beating the 200m running record, Dutee Chand’s gender was questioned. The Indian 100m racer won her case against the IAAF, now called World Athletics, questioning her gender — and thus, her performance. 

Expecting to get qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, Chand was actually dropped by the Athletics Federation of India, who stated that “hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete.” 

The athlete appealed her case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne where she won, and was able to continue to compete. Her story is not that of most women threatened by the hyperandrogenism controversy. 

As Phyllis noted, “Men can be celebrated as being different, but no one is asking Michael Phelps to cut off his legs, or stopping them to compete, to level the playing field.” 

It has been repeatedly deemed that women who were succeeding in their domain could not be women and therefore needed to have their androgen levels tested. Several remarkable female athletes have faced exclusion from competitive sports because they had higher than the deemed normal testosterone levels in their bodies.

Through the film, we follow Negesa’s story from getting accused of being male, to having to undergo surgery. 

Negesa is the first person in the world to come forward with her story. She started the Q&A by stating, “I was a victim of the IAAF regulations.” She said this with intense resentment, as she went on to explain her story. 

“It demolished everything I was working for.”  

She’s now in Berlin seeking asylum because she receives death threats in her home country of Uganda based on questions of her gender. 

Phyllis ends the film on a note of resistance: “They want to protect women, we don’t need protection.”


Black Canadians who made history in sports

Celebrating the contribution made by Black athletes in Canada’s history

Black History Month is about honouring Black Canadians, both past and present, who have made enormous contributions in all sectors of society. Though it has been celebrated since 1978, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada in December 1995.

To this day, Black athletes continue to captivate the nation across every sport while breaking down cultural barriers in society. As those of the past had to overcome adversity and racial discrimination transparently, today’s Black competitors remind us of the ongoing battle against racism that continues to plague the world.

Here are the stories of eight Black Canadian athletes who made history by reaching the pinnacle in sports with the odds entirely stacked against them.

George Dixon 

George Dixon was the first Canadian-born boxing champion, winning the bantamweight title in 1890. Born in Africville, Nova Scotia, Dixon would also claim the world featherweight title in 1891, after defeating Cal McCarthy in 22 rounds.

Dixon is widely credited for developing shadowboxing, a training exercise commonly used by combat sports athletes in which one throws punches at an imaginative opponent. Today, it is a staple in martial arts, acting as an effective routine to loosen and warm up the body.

John Howard 

John Armstrong “Army” Howard was a Canadian track and field athlete. At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Howard became the first Black Olympian to represent Canada. He was born in the United States and moved to Winnipeg in 1907 with his father.

According to major Canadian media prior to the event, Howard was Canada’s best hope for gold. However, the top-ranked sprinter’s performance was hindered by a stomach ailment that saw him fail to advance to the finals in the 100m and 200m events. Howard’s impact on Canadian sports is felt through two of his grandchildren, who became Olympians themselves, Harry and Valerie Jerome.

Phil Edwards

Phil Edwards was another Canadian track and field athlete who competed in middle-distance events. He earned the nickname “Man of Bronze” for winning five Olympic bronze medals but none of other denominations. He would be Canada’s most decorated Olympic athlete until 2002.

Edwards became the first-ever winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy in 1936, an award that is bestowed annually to Canada’s top athlete. The same year, he became the first Black person to graduate from McGill University’s medical school. He would compete in the 1936 Summer Olympic Games shortly after his graduation.

Barbara Howard 

At 17 years old, Barbara Howard was one of the fastest female sprinters in the British Empire. She qualified for the 1938 British Empire Games (now named the Commonwealth Games, since 1974) after running 100 yards in 11.2 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the British Empire Games record.

Howard is believed to be the first Black woman to represent Canada in international sports competition; however, she never got the chance to participate in the Olympic Games because of its cancellation due to World War II.

Her athletic accomplishments were recently recognized with her induction to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

Willie O’Ree 

On Jan. 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree made history at the Montreal Forum when suiting up for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Today, the Bruins’ trailblazer is the director of the NHL’s diversity program, a movement that aims to ensure hockey is taught and promoted to children from all cultural backgrounds in North America. O’Ree’s number will be retired by the Bruins next season.

Angela James 

Angela James is a former Canadian ice hockey player who played senior hockey between 1980 and 2000. James played in the first women’s world championship in 1987. She would lead Team Canada to four gold medals at the IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championships in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997.

During her senior career, James was a six-time most valuable player and eight-time scoring champion. She is hailed as a major pioneer who enabled the women’s game to enter mainstream Canadian culture and is seen as the first superstar in modern women’s hockey.

Donovan Bailey 

Donovan Bailey became a Canadian sports icon when he set the 100m world record at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, running a time of 9.84 seconds. Bailey also anchored the 4x100m Canadian relay team to another gold metal that year. In becoming the world’s fastest man, Bailey was named “Athlete of the Decade” by Track & Field News.

The Jamaican-born athlete was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 as an individual athlete and in 2008 as a member of the 1996 Canadian champion relay team.

Jarome Iginla 

In 2002, Jarome Iginla became the first Black male athlete to win a Winter Olympic gold medal. Iginla was an alternate captain for Team Canada, where he helped lead the nation to its first Olympic hockey championship in 50 years. He notched two goals in the team’s 5-2 victory over Team USA in the finals.

Iginla played over 1,500 games in the NHL in a career that spanned from 1996-2017. In 2020, he became the fourth Black player to be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame after Grant Fuhr, James, and O’Ree.


Collage by Kit Mergaert


Concordia Stingers still unsure about what the next year will bring

Coaches and players remain positive that sports will be played in 2020-21

Concordia University announced earlier this month that the upcoming fall semester will be online. The official statement from the university specified that exceptions will be made for activities requiring  hands-on practice, but didn’t discuss the future of their sports teams for the 2020-21 seasons.

It’s not clear if university sports will be played in the fall, as many questions are still unanswered. Even though the fall semester will be online for many students in the province, university sports could still be played depending on the decisions of U SPORTS and the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ).

However, a scenario where U SPORTS and the RSEQ would let the play go on wouldn’t automatically mean that the Concordia Stingers would play at Concordia Gym, Concordia Stadium or the Ed Meagher Arena. Montreal is currently Canada’s hot spot for confirmed COVID-19 cases, which could force the Stingers to play elsewhere during the pandemic.

Stingers coaches and players haven’t received more information since last week’s statement, but are still confident there will be a 2020-21 season. Tenicha Gittens, head coach for the women’s basketball team, believes having classes online in the fall will help ensure sports can be played during the next school year.

“Our players are in constant contact, as they go to class, travel from one place to the other, and play basketball,” Gittens said. “By having classes online, it eliminates many of those physical contacts between our players and other people.”

On the men’s side, head basketball coach Rastko Popovic said sports will need to follow what experts say.

We might have a full season, or perhaps a shortened season,” Popovic said. “I think it will also depend on what other provinces or schools do. It sometimes takes one school to do something, and the others follow.”

On the women’s hockey team, forwards Audrey Belzile and Emmy Fecteau said the hockey equipment used, such as the full visor for the women, should help avoid skin-to-skin contact.

“We probably won’t start in September as usual, but I think it’s still possible,” Belzile said. “It will be my last season, so it’s tough and sad to think I might have [already] played my last university game without knowing it. Yet, there are still many months before the start of the season, so I’m optimistic.”

Fecteau said it’s been hard to conclude last season without the traditional galas and team gatherings. She explained that players didn’t have time to say goodbye to each other.

“It would be too sad if the players couldn’t play their final year, and finish their university career that way,” Fecteau said.

Basketball player Olivier Simon is among those playing their last season in 2020-21. The veteran forward, who graduated at the end of the winter semester in 2019, said that with the current COVID-19 situation, he’s considering skipping next season, if there is one, and coming back for 2021-22.

“I’d have the chance to play a full season, with preseasons, tournaments and possibly nationals,” Simon said. “It’s a big decision I’ll have to make because I don’t want to end my career with a half-season and without tournaments. Yet, it’s also a tough one, as we don’t know what’s the future going to be like right now. On the academic side, I have to look at the best options. I might look for a master’s degree or something more concrete.”

The Stingers are using what many students and teachers have been using since confinement: Zoom. Coaches and players are using the communication platform each week for their meetings.

With Zoom, the ‘share screen’ button allows you to show other people in your chat what’s on your computer or cellphone screen. Popovic said his staff shares training videos to help their players stay active the best way they can from home.

We have players elsewhere in Canada and the world,” Popovic said. “We understand that some are having tougher times than others, and we are simply doing our best to help them during this difficult time.”

For men’s basketball player Sami Jahan, who recorded 147 points in his first season with the Stingers in 2019-20, it’s frustrating to look forward to a season that may not happen. However, he said that on the whole, there are things so much worse than not playing sports right now.

“For me, it’s just [important] to be patient, and to keep working on my basketball,” Jahan said. “Even as you’re training, it’s about continuing to be positive, and believing that good things will come.”

Rugby, soccer and football teams are the Stingers teams that normally play exclusively in the fall, while hockey and basketball have calendars covering both semesters. Due to the current situation, sports played in the fall could end up playing their full 2020-21 season in the winter, while those with longer calendars could be forced to play shortened seasons.






Photo from archive – by Andrej Ivanov (2015)


Pressuring their kids to become ‘The Next One’

There is a predictable stereotype for every minor hockey team which is to have at least one or two crazy hockey parents in the stands. Although we laugh and joke about this, the truth is that there are far too many parents pressuring their kids to compete at a level they are incapable of reaching. Far too many parents believe that their kid has what it takes to be the next Sidney Crosby. They feel that this justifies pressuring and working their child until they no longer have a will to play hockey.

Graphic by Jenny Kwan

Concordia Stingers head coach Kevin Figsby, who has 30 years of coaching experience working for Hockey Québec and Hockey Canada, has seen his fair share of hockey parents who pressure their kids.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids that can’t handle the pressure that their parents put on them. I’ve seen what it does to the kids, and that’s the worst part,” he said.

“I don’t think parents realize that they put that amount of pressure on their kids. It’s unfortunate, because a lot of the times in those situations, those kids are turned off [by] the game. And that’s the sad part.”

Crazy hockey parents are in no way a new phenomenon, and most people who have played minor hockey can recall several incidents involving parents acting inappropriately.

Former president of Hockey Calgary, Todd Millar, is no stranger to these parents. In his book Moron: The Behind the Scenes Story of Minor Hockey, Millar writes: “For whatever reason, near that hockey rink, [parents] think that aggressive, asinine behaviour is acceptable, for those few moments of watching their son or daughter play the game of hockey. Would they act like that in front of their boss, or at a family function? I hope not. But they do act that way at a hockey rink.”

As a minor hockey player, Concordia’s star forward, Olivier Hinse, has also witnessed his fair share of crazy hockey parents.

“I’ve seen a lot of parents chirping each other from one end of the rink to the other, and almost getting into fist fights.”

He’s also been witness to parents yelling at coaches or trying to coach from the stands. “There’s a lot of parents who are taking too much control of their kid, and they don’t let the coach do their job.”

The goal of most “crazy” hockey parents is to turn their child into a superstar. They go about this by trying to control every aspect of their child’s hockey career, which takes away the fun of the game. Kids no longer want to play the game when their parents are shouting at them or the coach, whenever they are at the rink.

Stingers defenceman, Youssef Kabbaj, has also seen first-hand what an over pressuring parent can do to a young athlete.

“There was a guy who played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was drafted in the second round, and he was a really good player, “ Kabbaj said. “But his dad was so intense on him, and he would literally demand perfection from him. The guy would score two or three goals, and it was never good enough for his dad.”

“It ended up hindering his game, because he’s not where I thought he would be now. Parents end up focusing so much on performance, whereas the child doesn’t have the passion to play the game anymore.”

Kabbaj feels that supportive parents help their kids excel, while overbearing parents hinder a player’s growth and development.

“My dad was tough on me. He was demanding, but what he demanded was intensity. He didn’t care if I was going to be the next Sidney Crosby or not.”

Figsby echoes Kabbaj’s point of view, in that the parents who want their kids to be future NHL superstars end up holding their kids back.

“My best players tend to have had great parents growing up. The ones who came to every game were super positive and encouraging, who would do anything for the team and will not say anything to their kid except ‘Did you have fun?’ The kids that struggle tend to have the parents that are verbally pressuring or manipulative.”

It is natural for parents to want their children to be the best that they can be. It is also important for parents to support their children, and to help them achieve their goals. There is a fine line between support and pressure, and many parents fail to distinguish between them.

“To help their children grow, parents can’t impose stuff,” Kabbaj said. “They have to evaluate where their kid is, and then see how they can help support them to be the best that they can be. In the end, Sidney Crosby is in the NHL because he worked hard and he wants to be there. I don’t think he would be there if he didn’t want to be.”


Stingers stay fit in the off-season

“I play [hockey] at a recreational level with former teammates from junior,” said Youssef Kabbaj, a Stingers hockey team defenseman, who played with the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “It keeps me sharp for the start of training camp.” Photo by Keith Race

The school year is upon us and that also means a new season is set to begin for the Stingers. And, as with the start of every season, players find out just how much their work in the summer has or hasn’t paid off.

Throughout the summer, Stingers athletes have been coming up with different ways to stay in shape to help them prepare for the upcoming season. One way many athletes stay in shape is by playing their sport year-round.

“The summer can either propel [an athlete] to the next level or cripple them if they don’t work hard,” said Taylor Garner, a forward for the men’s basketball team. “I like to stay in shape by playing as many ball games as possible.”

“I play [hockey] at a recreational level with former teammates from junior,” said Youssef Kabbaj, a Stingers hockey team defenseman, who played with the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “It keeps me sharp for the start of training camp.”

Athletes also train on their own time, with some help from Stingers strength and conditioning coordinator, Lisa-Marie Breton.

“As a team, we were given a training regiment [from Breton], updated every month in order to prepare us for the upcoming season,” said Andrew Bryan, a forward for the Stingers soccer team.

“I work out at least three to four times a week,” said Garner. “For me, I prefer basketball specific exercises, ones that help with speed, footwork and cardio. As a basketball player it’s more important to be mobile than it is to be super muscular.”

“We do a lot of chin-ups, shoulder and tricep exercises [in practice] because they’re directly related to shot power and release as well as giving an edge in one-on-one battles,” said Kabbaj. “We do a lot of split squats to strengthen my stride when [we] skate.”

However some athletes have suffered injuries as a result of their off-season play, which makes it difficult to prepare for the Stingers training camps in August.

Phoebe Cullingham, a Concordia rugby player, dislocated her shoulder last summer while playing for her club team, the Halifax Tars. As a result, she chose not to play rugby this summer. However, Cullingham was still able to do strength training three to four times a week and cardio exercises three times a week.

“I think I will find [starting the Stingers season] hard because I haven’t been playing at all this summer, but I expect to make up the difference, then exceed it fairly quickly,” Cullingham added.

Shauna Zilversmit, a forward for the women’s soccer team, suffered a torn ligament in her left knee during a game for the Monteuil AAA senior and is waiting to be cleared to play.

“It can be a little tough sometimes getting back [in game shape] but keeping active throughout the summer makes it easier. However, this year I am starting off with the injury and therefore haven’t been able to train throughout the last half of the summer as much.”

Studying in university often means late-night pizza and soda because it’s cheap, quick and easy. For an athlete, it isn’t so simple.

“I have spoken to a nutritionist to understand my basic needs,” said Cullingham. “I have been a vegetarian for over 12 years, so I am very careful about my protein intake, and not to over consume carbohydrates.”

“After every workout I need to have a recovery drink so that my body isn’t sore the next day,” said Kyle Armstrong, a center for the Stingers hockey team. “I also try to get in about 50 grams of protein in the mornings by eating Greek yogurt, egg whites and peanut butter on toast. For snacks, I make sure to always grab fruit instead of a cookie or muffin.”

While every athlete has their own way to stay in shape and prepare for the season, they share the common goal of being ready for success.

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