Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 4, No 1 (2014)

Identity Politics and Global Citizenship in Elite Athletics: Comparing Caster Semenya and Oscar Pistorius

Amanda Danielle Watson, Heather Hillsburg, Lori Chambers


At the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, Team South Africa filed behind its respective flag-bearers, track-and-field stars Caster Semenya and Oscar Pistorius. While both athletes were mired in controversy at various points in their careers, each athlete's selection as South Africa's official flag bearer reaffirmed to the team, and indicated to the international spectator community, that each of the athletes had proven themselves "ideal" to represent the nation of South Africa on the world stage.

The act of naming an athlete to be a country's official flag bearer is one of many instances at mega sporting events like the Olympics and World Championships where the notion of global citizenship is at play. In the context of globalization and the Olympic games, where competition between nations is extended into the arena of sport, Olympians are heralded as the ultimate global citizens, representing both the competitive individual and the competitive state. Bridging fields of globalization, citizenship, and sporting events, the Olympic Games are a mega-event upon which highly politicized notions of race, class, sex, gender, and geographical location intersect (see Toohey 2007).

How is citizenship publically negotiated, learned, regulated, and performed through the mega-event of the Olympic Games? In this comparative feminist media analysis of the cases of Caster Semenya and Oscar Pistorius, we map the ways in which categories of identity, including race, gender, and class, are mobilized in discussion of these athletes as more-or-less deserving Olympic athlete-citizens.


Critical Race Theory, Citizenship Studies, Global Citizenship Education, Intersectionality, Mega-Events

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