Male or female? How about sportsmanship?

Last Wednesday afternoon at the OCBC arena, some spectators in the crowd of 500 started jeering before the women’s volleyball match. Boos could be heard from some Filipino supporters when scores were delivered by Aprilia Santini Manganang from Indonesia.

Manganang was at the heart of a gender controversy which splashed across local and international news channels the past week.


Philippine Chef de Mission Julian G Camacho had appealed for a gender test on Manganang the day before. Manganang was distastefully labelled by some as a ‘lady-boy’; just to name one of the many transphobic remarks. Opponents of the gender test have turned to calling the Filipinos ‘sore losers’ looking to excuse their poor performance.



The 23-year-old stands at 1.7m tall and weighs 68 kg. From the looks of her physique and appearance, it is little wonder why the Philippines raised questions.

Okay… So if she has nothing to fear, she should just take the test, right? In fact, Manganang shares your exact sentiments. It is reportedly not her first time in the spotlight over her gender, and she has been tested in the course of her sprinting and volleyball careers.

“I am ready (for a gender test). I am also not in the wrong — whatever I have is given from above,” Manganang said in Bahasa Indonesia.

The appeal was eventually rejected after a review by the South East Asian Games Federation (SEAF) Medical committee. Manganang was also cleared to play by FIVB, the world governing body for volleyball; note that she already played the qualifiers for the World Championships last year in Vietnam without problems too.

In spite of having nothing to fear, gender verification can be a traumatic and humiliating process for the subjects and their families. It is socially insensitive and may be potentially inaccurate. Several issues revolve around it, particularly for those with “intersex” conditions (in which a person is born with a reproductive anatomy that doesn’t seem to be clearly defined as female or male).

Amongst many others under global attention, Polish athlete Ewa Kłobukowska was found to have the rare genetic condition of XX/XXY mosaicism and was banned from competing in professional sports. She failed a traditional gender test with “one chromosome too many”, but later gave birth to a son.

It wasn’t a choice to be born with genetic abnormalities; surely these individuals should be allowed to compete in the spirit of sport?

Even if Manganang were a transgender, a ruling was also approved in 2004 by the board of the International Olympic Committee to allow transsexuals to compete as their newly assigned gender under strict requirements. This should be so for the SEA Games as well.

Sports – competitive or non-competitive – should be fair for all.

Sportsmanship is the ethos to enjoy sports for its own sake, while taking fairness, ethics and respect into proper consideration.  It also encompasses a sense of fellowship and graciousness to opponents.

Foul play should definitely not be tolerated – the appeal is not unfounded. However, the committee’s decision should be trusted. The Filipinos could have upheld the spirit of sportsmanship and been a good sport during the match.


“Thank you… (The controversy) gave me more spirit to play and win during the match.”

Kudos to you, Manganang.



  1. What is good sportmanship towards females when males are allowed to compete in their sports? How is this not cheating?

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