An Indian heptathlete who came in fourth place in the 2023 Asian Games has accused the woman who beat her out for a bronze medal of being transgender and “stealing” the victory from a woman.
“I have lost my Asian Games bronze medal to a transgender women (sic) at the 19th Asian Games held in Hangzhou, China,” Swapna Barman wrote in a since-deleted post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I want my medal back as it is against the rules of our Athletics. Help me and support me please. #protestforfairplay.”
Nandini Agasara, who was also competing for India, narrowly edged Barman, earning 5,712 points to the latter’s 5,708 points in the track-and-field event. Competitors earn points based on their performances in three track-and-field races, two throwing competitions, and two jumping competitions.
Agasara has denied she’s transgender, saying it’s just a way to detract from her hard work and effort, according to the Times of India.
“I don’t understand what’s the issue with her?” she said of Barman. “I doubt the timing of her allegations. Why didn’t she make the accusations earlier?
“It’s only when I won the bronze because of my sheer hard work and dedication that she came up with this transgender thing,” Agasara said. “This is so unfair. I thank the government and my federation for standing behind me and supporting me.”
When reporters pushed her on Barman’s accusations, Agasara clapped back at their insistence that she “prove” she’s a woman, reports the right-wing British tabloid the Daily Mail.
“I know what I am,” she said. “Ask her to show proof. I will also show that I have won the medal for India. I only want to do well for the country.
“Now we have won, so people have started talking about it. I will take up this issue with AFI [Athletics Federation of India] for sure. I wanted to enjoy the moment of winning the medal but going back to India as my mother is not well.”
Earlier this year, World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field and other running sports, banned transgender athletes who began transitioning after puberty from competing in women’s events.
But Barman’s allegations against Agasara also highlight an oft-underreported criticism of laws that seek to bar transgender athletes from competition: the idea that such prohibitions can — and will — be leveled against cisgender women who perform well in sports.
Some cisgender athletes, including one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Idaho’s ban on transgender athletes, had worried that laws requiring invasive tests or examinations to “prove” their biological sex would be used to maliciously sideline them from competitions until they consented.
Such challenges could be based on one’s performance — in order to gain a competitive edge by sidelining or expelling the alleged “transgender” athlete — or simply because an athlete is more muscular, less conventionally “feminine” in manner, appearance or behavior, wears her hair short, or does not conform to stereotypical standards of beauty.
As demonstrated by Barman’s behavior, it is obvious that some athletes who can’t deal with loss will always exploit such rules or attempt to spread misinformation to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a competitor’s success.
Luckily, though, Agasara’s medal-winning performance at the Asian Games has been celebrated by most people in India, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“She is an absolute champion, personifying sporting spirit and excellence,” Modi wrote of Agasara. “Congrats to her and all the best for the endeavors ahead.”
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