Seven players have been nominated by their unions for the 2023 FIFPRO Merit Awards. FIFPRO will announce the winners in the three different categories – Activism, Impact and Voice – during its annual general assembly in South Africa on Thursday 23 November. Chris Kach, a Kenyan intersex player, is one of the nominees.
By Chris Kach
I started playing football in primary school and continued as I advanced to a girls’ secondary school. I was awarded a bursary by a national school to play for them and further my education there, but I did not take it up as I did not complete secondary school.
It was at this time that the opposite sex started showing up on my body. The school did not know what to do with me. They knew me as Christine and had no idea what was happening, so they referred me to the Kenyatta National Hospital. At the time I was not sure why they referred me. In my head I was Christine. That was the only thing I knew.
My parents were very supportive. They told me that it was God’s plan and I should not stress. When I was at the hospital I went to counselling, where I was told that I had this condition of intersex. That was in 2014. I wanted to enrol in a different school, but they could not take me as I arrived with documentation that did not show me how I was. It was difficult dealing with these things. I was isolating myself from others because I felt I was the only one with this condition.
But even with these struggles, I was doing well with my football: I was playing in my club’s senior side in Kenya’s top league and received a call-up to the national team. However, I was told that for any international match, I had to undergo medical tests.
I decided to quit the team because I knew my condition was not the same as most people’s. I had done so many medical tests, I did not want to do any more. In 2018, I decided to also quit playing club football because I wasn’t in a good place mentally.
After not playing for two seasons, I realised that there were many people depending on me to play. I know of some 20 other intersex players, but they have not yet come out because they fear how they will be perceived by others. They were looking up to me. I was motivating them and giving them the strength to play as intersex players. That gave me the courage to come back.
When I decided to return to football, many players, coaches and teams congratulated me. My return to the game gave other intersex players the courage to continue playing. I said that I would play for them, to give other intersex players the strength to continue with their career. Currently I am the only intersex player who has come out, but the number of intersex players is growing.
The other teams all know me. Some opponents’ fans sometimes make bad comments, but I just ignore them and play my game. I prove to them that I’m that person, the only difference is that I am intersex. If I get attached to what they say, it will lower my self-esteem. But generally, if our opponents show that they respect me and come and talk to me, then the fans will accept me.
I am now an advocate for intersex players. When I play, I’m advocating for our rights and our inclusion. When people see me playing, they see Kach, an intersex player.
The Kenya Footballers Welfare Association were very supportive and encouraged me to return to football. But I think globally the issue of intersex players is not particularly high on the agenda. Many people believe, falsely, that it is covered by LGBTQIA+ issues. They categorise us without knowing our suffering, without knowing that there is this unique condition which is inborn.
I am active when it comes to community mobilisation. We go out to different communities and sensitise them on matters regarding intersex and intersex in sport. Kenya is one of the leading countries in Africa, and even the world, when it comes to recognition of intersex rights. In 2019 intersex was included in a census and that has given us some milage as we have been recognised by the government. Intersex children have also been recognised by the Children's Act of 2022.
I also provide safe spaces for others to speak about being intersex, about things like being forcedly undressed in public or being ignored by their family. We give them a place to talk and offer them shelter. These safe spaces have encouraged other intersex footballers to come out. I collaborate with an organisation called Jinsiangu in this endeavour.
I earn some money playing football in the Women’s Premier League for Kenya Police Bullets. I also own an online shop where I sell clothing that I design. I have a small printing company through which I offer intersex people the opportunity to learn soft skills to give them a better opportunity to earn a living. They often struggle to find employment and by giving them some skills, I am hoping that they have a better chance to find a job.
Being nominated for the FIFPRO Merit Awards means a lot. When I started out, I thought that I was alone – but being recognised as a nominee shows that I am not alone. It gives me courage. It gives me hope that at least something is being done and someone appreciates what I am doing.