When the Canadian Women's National Team defeated their American counterparts 1-0 to advance to the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics, they secured more than a historic birth in the final for Canada. It was also a moment to celebrate for trans and nonbinary people. Quinn, the Canadian midfielder who earlier in the Games became the first openly trans and nonbinary athlete to participate at the Olympics, will also on Friday become the first openly trans athlete to win an Olympic medal.
It's an achievement not to be downplayed. This achievement comes a time when the sports world is one of the most prominent spaces curtailing trans rights and trying to exterminate trans people from existing. Quinn and fellow trans and nonbinary Olympians (weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, skateboarder Alana Smith, and BMX alternate Chelsea Wolfe) have made it to this stage at a remarkable time. Prominent international sporting bodies have changed regulations and waged a negative public opinion battle to deny trans, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and intersex athletes their chance to compete. This quartet has managed to get to Tokyo despite those constant efforts.
Quinn has been a constant in the Canadian lineup during this tournament and yet if you've watched Canada's matches, you might not have realized they've featured so prominently. For those of us watching in Canada, Quinn's contributions have been downplayed and ignored. When Quinn is mentioned, they are frequently misgendered by Canada's commentary team.
Nigel Reed, a broadcaster with CBC and TSN, who is supplying play-by-play for Team Canada's games, consistently misgendered Quinn during Canada's first match against host's Japan. When Reed as called out for his atrocious behaviour, he apologized on Twitter: "Want to apologize sincerely to @TheQuinny5 and Canadian fans for my improper use of pronouns this morning. I know better but misspoke in the moment and meant no disrespect. I hope you can forgive my error, from which I will learn."
I was skeptical of the apology at the time, but Reed's actions in subsequent games undermine even the most charitable readings of his contrition. He has not only continued to misgender Quinn, he also frequently ignores their contributions on the pitch, choosing not to commentate on moments when Quinn is involved in the play. Frankly, what Reed is doing should get him fired; misgendering an athlete and deliberately ignoring their contributions is reprehensible.
But he's not the only one in the booth. Reed's commentary partner is Dr. Clare Rustad, a medical doctor and former Canadian national team midfielder. Much has been made of Dr. Rustad's title at the Games. It has been used in introductory graphics and by her broadcasting colleagues. I don't have a problem with her using her title, especially as her medical expertise is valuable to have during an athletic tournament taking place in extreme heat during a pandemic, but it's notable that CBC has been very committed to using her honorific while allowing one of its commentators to consistently misgender an athlete during the same broadcasts.
It's also disappointing that Dr. Rustad, as a medical professional, has let this behaviour go unchecked. Reed is responsible for his own words. But Dr. Rustad has a responsibility as a medical professional to respect Quinn's gender. It is unconscionable for a doctor to allow a trans and nonbinary person to be treated this way. Even if Quinn can't hear Reed's insults, the trans folks watching can hear a medical doctor silently accepting their misgendering.
That Quinn is trans and nonbinary isn't breaking news but if it was, I would expect Reed and Dr. Rustad to get their pronouns correct. However, this commentating team had time to prepare for these Games, has already been called out for this behaviour and continues to misgender Quinn. It's just bullshit.
Effectively, the commentary team has erased Quinn from the very history they are creating. Canadian media have been fixated on the strong performances and medal haul of women athletes at these games, as they should be. Canada's athletes in women's events have won all but one of the nation's medals so far. It's a testament to the nation's programs and supports, as well as the athletes themselves.
Acknowledging the historic achievement of Canada's lone trans and nonbinary athlete at these Games does not undermine the successes of the nation's other athletes. For an Olympics that was promoted under the banner of gender balance with an equal number of competitions and similar numbers of male and female competitors, and that champions new, mixed events, to undermine and erase the contributions of trans and nonbinary participants is deliberate. Gender equality cannot occur in sports without the full participation of trans, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and intersex athletes. If those commentating on these games refuse to acknowledge that, there should be repercussions.
When Quinn takes the field on Friday morning in Tokyo, they will make history, as they have all tournament. By reaching the final, they have already ensured they will leave the pitch as the first openly trans and nonbinary Olympic medalist, and (fingers crossed) champion. In a sports landscape that wants to eliminate people like us, that one of us should reach such heights is remarkable.
But one question has been lingering: if the Canadian anthem plays, will we hear Quinn's name?
(Photo: Sara Bertoni/Unsplash)