Hetero-sexing the athlete: public and popular discourses on sexuality and women’s sport in South Africa


  • Mari Haugaa Engh, Dr University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
  • Cheryl Potgieter, Prof Durban University of Technology, South Africa




Sexualities, Gender, Homophobia, Women's sport, South Africa


On the African continent sport has, particularly in the last two decades, been hailed as a useful tool in the quest for nation building and social cohesion. A popular claim is that sport has a particularly powerful role to play in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. Yet what often remains silenced in assertions about the benefits and potentials of sport, are the ways in which sport also produces and sustains exclusion, frequently along sex/gender and racial lines. Sport has social and cultural significance precisely because it provides an avenue for the reproduction of normativities of embodiment, gender and sexuality. In this article, we critically examine how South African discourses on sport reproduce heteronormative and racialised ideas about women’s sport and women athletes. Focusing in particular on representations of South African women’ athletes, we raise questions about the type and form of visibility that is afforded South African sportswomen. Using examples of public debates and media coverage regarding three South African women athletes –Eudy Simelane, Caster Semenya and Portia Modise – we argue that three representational regimes shape discussions of gender, sexuality and women’s sport in South Africa; annihilation, domestication, and expulsion


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