SEA Games: Manganang shrugs off gender doubts to shine in

SEA Games: Manganang shrugs off gender doubts to shine in
Indonesia's Aprilia Santini Manganang (L) in action

At the net, in mid-court and even as she lined up at the service line, Aprilia Santini Manganang faced jeers every time she touched the ball at the OCBC Arena yesterday.

The Indonesian volleyball player was the subject of a gender-protest ahead of the Indonesia-Philippines women's SEA Games match, and the rival fans jumped on her at every opportunity.

After the game, the 23-year-old had to literally run out of the arena onto the team bus, as she was hunted down for photographs.

The 1.7-metre, 68kg Manganang may be tired of the attention she draws, but out on court, none of that showed. Indeed, she seemed to revel in the jeers.

The Philippines had asked the Singapore Southeast Asian Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) to verify Manganang's gender ahead of yesterday's match, a request that was rejected after the South East Asian Games Federation (SEAF) medical committee "reviewed the documents submitted by the Indonesian volleyball team".

But Manganang's message to those who call for tests to verify her gender was a simple one.

"Thank you, because you give me the strength to keep fighting," she said, after inspiring Indonesia to a 25-22, 25-20, 25-14 win.

The Indonesia team manager Hanny Sidik Surkatty said: "I'm very surprised (that this protest was filed), she had already played in the qualifiers for the World Championships last year in Vietnam. We had no problems."

But the constant scrutiny has taken its toll on Manganang.

"Honestly, my life is quite sad. Not many people have this kind of life where everywhere you go you have to face challenges. Any country I go to and play, there'll be protests," she said.

"It makes you question your self worth, because a lot of people question my gender just from the way I look."

She came here expecting such protests, in what is her first appearance at the Games. There were also other fears that plagued her mind.

"Playing volleyball is the sole income for my parents and my family, and I was afraid that the coach would not let me play, and I won't get paid," she said.

Philippines Volleyball president Jose Romasanta said of Singsoc's decision: "It was rejected on the basis that there was no time for the medical to be done. And the decision was made on the basis of (her being allowed to play at) previous tournaments - of course I disagree.

"I don't really think this is harsh, it's for the good of everyone at the SEA Games to have this issue put to rest."

Indonesia chef de mission Taufik Hidayat backed Manganang.

"They submitted the protest and it was rejected. There is pressure, but we must not let this affect the team. We must support her," said the Indonesian badminton legend.

Manganang also chose to stay resolute.

"If they want me to take a test, I'll do it," said the player who considers Lionel Messi as her sporting idol. "This is my first SEA Games, I've waited so long, and I want to do my best for Indonesia."

This article was first published on June 11, 2015.
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