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Fourth-Place Medal

Summer Olympic sports where men are barred from competing

Fourth-Place Medal

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The London Games are a celebration of equality. For the first time, women will compete in all 26 sports, including boxing. It's not total equality — women still compete in 30 fewer events than men — but it's part of a larger trend towards gender equity on sports' global stage.

So what happens if you're a male athlete that feels discriminated against, based on gender?

According to Belinda Goldsmith of Reuters, there are two sports in which men are shut out of competition in which women compete for medals:

Men have called for action after being ruled out from competing at two events at the Summer Olympics, synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, even though there are growing numbers of men participating in both sports.

A lobby group of male synchronized swimmers wrote to the IOC and swimming's governing body FINA in June to argue that men should no longer be excluded from this event at the Olympics.

Men's rhythmic can resemble a different sport than women's. It's a strength-based competition that incorporates martial arts; power is emphasized as much as artistry. It's born from Japanese stick gymnastics, and the Japan Gymnastics Association is helping to lead the charge in an attempt to get the sport recognized as an Olympic sport.

Like male synchronized swimming, men's rhythmic faces a participation issue: Are there enough athletes around the world competing in these sports to warrant Olympic inclusion? This eventually enters a chicken-or-the-egg argument: How do fringe sports become mainstream without validation from the IOC?

[ Photos: Synchronized swimming secrets revealed ]

But male synchronized swimming faces other issues to speak to the sexual politics in organized sports.

Male synchronized swimming has had a charming existence in popular culture. It's lampooned on cruise ship comedy nights. "Men Who Swim," a quirky documentary about an all-male swim team in Stockholm, premiered on PBS this year. The sport was immortalized by Harry Shearer and Martin Short on "Saturday Night Live" in this inescapable sketch:

But in the last decade, men have started participating in synchronized swimming sans irony. Kenyon Smith made headlines in 2008 as an 18-year-old star in the sport, competing on a team called the Aquamaids with, and against, women. He attempted to become an Olympian for the 2008 Beijing Games, according to a profile in Details magazine.

Some male athletes compete on majority-female teams, there are also all-male synchronized teams around the world, including the San Francisco Tsunami —  "a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight-friendly masters-level swim and synchronized swim team" — and the Out to Swim Angels:

Billed as Britain's only men's synchronized swim team, they're kicking-mad about being unable to represent their nation at the London Games.

Stephen Adshead, manager of the team, told Reuters that the barring of male synchronized swim athletes from the Games was "blatant inequality and unfair," having sent a letter to the IOC that read in part:

"… in at least one sport, it is men who are victims of this discrimination, which is no less intolerable than that aimed at women."

From the Independent, on the team's struggle for acceptance:

Last year the Angels took home a gold medal at the Eurogames in Rotterdam, but they want the next generation to have a chance at Olympic glory. Richard Snow, 34, an interior designer and founder member of the team, said:

"Originally there weren't many sports women could compete in, so having synchro for women only was about letting them have more sports [of their own]. But times have moved on and the rules should be reversed. I feel sad that men can't compete. Bit by bit we hope we can break down the barrier for men. Hopefully that will mean teams start including boys from a young age."

There are far greatest gender equality issues in the Olympics than male athletes feeling shut out by sports viewed as women-only; it's hard to equivocate the plight of the male rhythmic gymnast with that of a Saudi woman who finally earned the right to compete in the Summer Games, for example.

But as female boxers smash the glass ceiling in London, swimmers wonder when their passions in sports will sync with the policies of the IOC.

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