TELEVISION / About the size of it

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The Independent Culture
THE shape of your genitals isn't widely regarded as having a direct correlation to your ability to run fast (though I do recall some dubious press speculation about Linford Christie's 'lunchbox' a while ago). But this view isn't shared by the International Olympic Committee, who identify 'malformed genitals' as confirming evidence that a woman athlete isn't really a woman at all. You wondered, for a moment, what their benchmark of normality is; whether, in a sealed room in Geneva, an anatomically precise model in latex supplies the Olympic standard from which deviations can be measured.

In fact, On the Line (BBC 2) revealed that the truth was rather more absurd, discovering, in the course of their report on gender testing, a double-bind that makes Catch 22 look like kids' play. The IOC's final arbiter on gender, Eduardo Hay, was asked what proof he had that there was some connection between genital shape and 'masculine advantage'. 'The proof would be if she wins,' he replied simply. There's no danger of that happening, of course, because 'she' has just been disqualified from international sport. You can't win with some people.

On the Line's case was simple. The test currently applied by the IOC, which determines gender by looking at X and Y chromosomes (conventionally men are XY and women XX), is unscientific, unreliable, unnecessary and unfair. The women who had fallen victim to the test were not the standard caricature inspired by those stocky Iron Curtain athletes of the Seventies - women who looked as if they were the result of a fruitful union between Arnold Schwarzenegger and a Lada saloon. These were - and here the terminology gets tricky - clearly feminine.

The programme ran into some difficulties itself over this problem of how to assert a gender without recourse to the neutral observations of science. The camera had a tendency to cut away to make-up being applied, or, at one point, a beefcake poster on one competitor's bedroom wall, as if these might be bought in evidence in any appeal against the verdict of the test- tube. The sports federations themselves have cruder methods - many are now campaigning to have the chromosome test abandoned because stringent drug-testing has provided an alternative way of checking. Contestants have to produce a urine sample under the beady eyes of invigilators - in other words it doesn't really matter what shape they are, just how they deliver the goods.

Doc Martin's Casebook (BBC 1), a documentary hybrid of Casualty and 999, followed the treatment of a five- year-old boy with a badly burned hand. The coincidence of age between Ryan Morgan and Irma Hadzimuratovic only served to underline the accidental poignancy of this film - which you couldn't help watching as a representation in miniature of larger suffering elsewhere.

The distress and pain of small children is always hard to bear but is somehow less sharp when the agents are unthinking - in this case petrol and a lighted match. A large fun-fur elephant came round to explain how dangerous it was to play with fire. What explanations, what warnings, could the Wellyphant have given to the children still in Sarajevo's hospitals?

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