Research Shows Strong Link Between Athleticism And Leadership


Teamwork. Dedication. Character. Leadership. Determination. Who knew that when young girls participate in organized sports, they are learning and developing crucial traits for future success in the corporate world? As athletes, albeit intuitively, they may have known it all along.

Here in the US, the groundbreaking federal law in 1972, commonly known as Title IX, changed everything. It prohibited sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding and mandated gender equality in athletics, among other areas. It is one of the key reasons why women’s athletics participation in high school and college has skyrocketed, increasing by 90 percent (by some estimates) over the past four decades.

The benefits of girls playing sports are diverse and far-reaching. Many studies have highlighted results in lifelong improvements in women’s health, education and careers. Title IX’s requirement of gender equality in athletics not only ensures that young women are not treated as second-class citizens and relegated to the sidelines when it comes to athletics, but has profound, oftentimes life-changing, implications in their lives.

Professional skills development starts very early in kids' lives, unwittingly, takes place on rain-soaked soccer fields, sun-drenched beaches and the ubiquitously deafening school gyms throughout the academic year.

We can all nostalgically recollect that first character-defining moment, whether it was waking up at half past four on a Saturday morning, for a three-hour car ride, in order to compete in a regional sports competition, or the daily grueling regimen of running mile-after-mile with the hope of winning the cross-country league championship.

So many young girls have long toiled away, sacrificing sleep-overs and parties in order to reach peak fitness levels, and that is clearly evident by our numerous female corporate and heads-of-state leaders. For many of us, much like our predecessors, we have spurned the limitations of traditional professional roles for the opportunity to make the world a better place, and it all started with that first pitch or daunting hill, which we overcame beautifully.


  • PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi played cricket in India and later softball in the US.
  • DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman played college basketball at Tuft’s University.
  • Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played several sports, including basketball, soccer and softball.
  • Mondolez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld was a four-sport athlete in high school and played basketball at Cornell University.
  • Former US National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a competitive figure skater and tennis player.
  • Venus Williams, legendary professional tennis player, founded two companies, V-Starr Interiors (an interior design firm) and EleVen, an athletic clothing line.
  • Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, played volleyball
  • The first female head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, was a member of the French national synchronized swimming team.
  • The co-founder of Marvell Technology Group, Weili Dai, played semi-professional basketball in China.
  • London 2012 marked for the first time in history that each of the 204 participating nations had female athletes competing in the Olympics, including, for the first time, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei.
  • A survey of executive women found that 80% played sports growing up, and 69% said sports helped them develop leadership skills that contributed to their professional success.
  • By 2030, nearly a billion women will enter the economic mainstream. Called the “Third Billion”- the first and second are the populations of China and India- nearly 95% of these women are from emerging economies.

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.