Sue Caldwell (“Gender, Sport and Capitalism”, July/August SR) has helpfully drawn attention to discriminatory behaviour by the bureaucrats of international athletics, as well as questioning the fairness of some legal behaviours (such as the use of oxygen tents by athletes).
International athletes represent their countries, and some countries really do appear to regard international competitions as an opportunity to show that they are among the best. Historically, this desire has been demonstrated both illegally (state-sanctioned doping programmes) and legally (strong state support for athletes).
Hence, the prospects for individual success are influenced to a large degree by the support of their own states, which may of course display gender discrimination. As Sue Caldwell notes, sport has never been a level playing field.
In recent years, some researchers have produced alternative medals tables that adjust for factors such as GDP and population size. A GDP-adjusted analysis of the 2016 Olympics, based on data compiled by Google, found that the top three achieving nations were Grenada, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The US appeared in 60th place, rather than first.
It would be interesting to see alternative tables that adjusted for the extent of gender discrimination in different countries. If international athletics authorities really want to promote the Olympic ideals, they need to promote inclusion in sport rather than seeking ways to exclude people because of factors beyond their control (such as sex, gender identity, naturally-occurring hormones).