Should men and women compete against each other in sports?
Men and women compete against one another as equals in various aspects of life. At schools they sit in the same exams. In life, they compete for the same job opportunities. And both men and women take the same driving test. Some may suggest that there is inequality or an inherent bias towards one gender in each of the above, but nevertheless both men and women succeed essentially in such ‘competitions’ on their merits.
To an extent men and women do already play alongside and compete against one another in sport. My mother often thrashes my father at tennis and I play my brother at badminton. My father played mixed hockey and my male cousin rows in a boat with a female cox.
Serious competition in organised sports is and has historically being mostly separated, such that women compete against women and men compete against men. Perhaps the starting point is the question why this maybe and also to examine if that is exclusively the case.
The obvious reason for separating men and women in sport must surely be due to the significant difference in physiology between men and women.
Whilst there may always be exceptions to a rule, the standard default position is that men are invariably bigger and taller, stronger and faster than their female counterparts. The strongest man in the world can lift heavier weights than the strongest woman.
It therefore follows that if an elite female sports person is against an elite male, then the male will invariably have the advantage and win. The competition would be unfair and the results mostly be very predictable. Arguably people participate in and watch sports because the outcome is unknown.
If sports were made asexual with both men and women competing alongside each other, there would be a great many disciplines that would not have any female representation at elite or professional level. The Olympic boxing team would be all male has would, most probably all track and field events. Equally, it is difficult to foresee a female rugby player breaking through into an International team. In Tennis it is broadly recognised that the top female seed might only be rated 500th in the men’s rankings, for example in 1998 Serena and Venus Williams played Karsten Braasch, who was outside the top 200 men at the time, beat Serena 6-2 and Venus 6-1.
Combining the majority of Sports to make them mixed might superficially create an illusion of equality. It would without a doubt result in most sports being dominated by males. One can only speculate what such a male domination would do to female participation in sport, but it might be reasonable to suggest that if women are simply not physically capable of competing at the same level as a men, then perhaps they would never persevere in sports. It also follows that female participation in many sports could be severely curtailed. That would clearly not to be a good outcome for women.
Segregating men and women in sport is one of several mechanisms used in sports to place similar ability individuals to compete against one another. Other ‘handicapping’ rules and divisions are also deployed to help create a more equal competitive environment.
‘Handicapping’ already occurs a good number of sports. Boxing has weight divisions. Amateur golf has it’s own unique system, International football has under 19, under 21 and full international teams. At our school, not only do we have age divisions but also further segregation by ability with the best players in the A team and the less able in the F team. This is all designed to help achieve a competitive match against similar standard opposition. Indeed football, rugby and hockey and all other leagues are equally a method of pairing individuals and teams of like abilities against one another. Even horse racing is handicapped with horses proven to be fast, having to carry additional weight such that slower horses have an opportunity of winning
By creating a ‘matched’ match in sport the outcome is unpredictable and both the competitors and spectators will enjoy the participation and watching far more.
There are, though a number of sports where men and women compete alongside each other without handicap, show jumping and dressage being an example. It is apparent that horse riding is a sport where the physical dominance is with the horse and rider. Dressage and show jumping is a rare sport where males and females can compete against each other and mixed teams can compete against single sex teams.
Badminton, at a club and Olympic level, is played by both male, female and Mixed teams. However similar to other Sports that field mixed teams, the mixed team only plays against other mixed teams. And singles are played same sex.
Sailing is another sport that has separate male and female teams, as well as occasional mixed fleets (Nacra 17 multihull) at Olympic level. Again the Mixed team only completes against other mixed teams.
Club level sailing competitions as well as most International Yacht races is not though segregated. There are a great many mixed crews, a good number of all female teams, but still a pre-dominance of male only teams. Nevertheless all types of crew race equally against one another (albeit that frequently the boats themselves have a handicap to remove the advantage that an inherently quicker boat might have over an inherently slower boat (regardless of the ability of the crew).
Whilst there have been the occasional female successes, such as Dame Ellen MacArthur (who held the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe) and all female teams racing in the Volvo open ocean round the world yacht races. The vast majority off professional racing sailors and competitors in events such as the Americas cup one Vendee globe and Trans-At are male
Point perhaps worthy of note is the increase in the number of women who are reportedly playing Sport back at school an advanced level Post school since the 1960s. It follows that as the opportunity exists for women two play more sport, then more teams Will be established and the demand for women to Either have their own team within a mixed league or to play within a mixed team is likely to grow.
Our local cricket club at Blackheath has over the last five years taken on many girl players who train and play alongside the boys. Albury Eagles football club also has a strong female contingent. They too train alongside boys hands in the early years play in mixed teams. One of their girls recently being selected for the England under 16 Squad.
Equally, the more women that play sport, bigger the talent pool becomes and with that an improvement in the standard all the woman’s game.
It has been widely reported that interested in sports has grown significantly in recent years. Women’s cricket, rugby and football all now being televised and achieving good audiences both at the grounds and on the television.
Women’s participation in sports has grown significantly over time.
The vast majority of sports are played competitively as single sex. For the most part, particularly at elite level, separate sexes within sport helps create a more even competition.
On occasions an anomaly might arise that encourages question to be raised as to whether single sex sports is appropriate. One such recent anomaly being the Caster Semenya case where a female athlete has high levels of male hormones in her body which many claim gave her an unfair advantage over other female competitors. I am of the opinion that rules governing all sports for all time should not attempts to legislate for the very occasional and isolated occurrences such as the Semenya case.
There are a number of mostly team sports where both men and women make up a team and play against other mixed teams. There are very few instances of a female team playing against either a mixed or all male team (equestrian and sailing). There are currently very few Solo Sports where men compete against women.
Opportunity does though perhaps exist for more sports to be opened up two mixed sex competition, especially those sports where the requirement physical prowess is perhaps secondary to skill. Such Sports that might include shooting, archery, snooker, darts, motorised sports etc.
Perhaps the way forward, if demand continues to grow for male and female equality in sports for females to compete directly with and against males, is via a handicapped or league system.
It is not inconceivable, particularly at junior level,that for example, a mixed or all female hockey or football team be allowed to enter a male league. If they do well they get promoted, if they do poorly they get relegated.
The reality is though that most elite sports will require sexes to be segregated. That in turn also means that many of those competitors that might be drawn to play mixed sports but ultimately seek to play at a higher level will naturally make a move to the single sex environment to give themselves the best chance to succeed to the highest level.