In these pivotal and rapidly changing times, gender equality concerns us all – women and men, old and young. After all, it is a human right enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And sport is a powerful platform for its advancement – but how far should it go in sport?

Mixed participation in sport

The 2018 Youth Olympics, held in Buenos Aires in October 2018, became the first gender-equal event in the history of the entire Olympic movement, with an equal number of male and female events and athletes. Women’s sport has made significant headway of late, and this sort of progress is surely unarguable. It’s not ‘PC’, it’s just fair.

But mere equal representation in sport doesn’t necessarily represent the end game – the idea of mixed participation is increasingly on the agenda.

Women in the Ryder Cup?

The UCI, cycling’s governing body, recently announced that there is to be a new mixed relay in the team time-trial event at the road world championships in 2019. And as the 2018 Ryder Cup got underway in Paris, a national sports journalist put his head above the parapet to suggest it was time to “enhance it with the world’s best women golfers”.

After Matt Dickinson of The Times posited his idea on Twitter, it was met, predictably, with a chorus of disapproval from almost entirely men. Golf, with its frankly dreadful track record in terms of how it has treated women, surely has more of a duty than most sports to challenge itself, but is the idea of women taking part in the Ryder Cup, and the wider question of mixed participation in sport, going too far – or is it simply the next natural step in the name of progress?

It goes without saying that mixed participation in contact sports, as adults, is surely a non-starter, but in other sports such as golf, it may be achievable. Sir Nick Faldo certainly thinks so:

Absolutely it would be doable. The physical strength issue can be huge in golf, like other sports, but matchplay is definitely the way to even it up. Foursomes, with guys driving on one hole, women on the next, I think it can be cool. Tactically it could actually be fascinating. Sir Nick Faldo

Grassroots equality

In grassroots sport, gender stereotypes in sport are increasingly being broken down. In junior football, girls playing alongside and against boys is not uncommon, while rounders is being replaced by cricket at girls’ schools. Yet when girls enter their teens, questions are invariably asked about their physiological make up compared with male participants, and mixed participation tends to cease.

There is no doubt mixed participation in primary school aged children is a good thing – mixed training and competition fosters mutual respect, improves both boys’ and girls’ social skills, self-confidence, and provides experiences that will help them in later life.

Lots of gender stigmas in sport have started to erode. Girls play football, boys play netball, and hockey remains as triumphantly gender-neutral as it’s always been. Sport should be as inclusive as possible, and individuals should not have sporting opportunities limited or even blocked simply due to their gender. Everybody agrees with that, right?

But, ultimately, will we not empower women and girls more by letting women’s sport thrive on its own, and in its own arena – or is sport still so inherently sexist and male-dominated that women and girls will never be afforded the same opportunities and exposure until we see total parity of esteem, and mixed participation where possible?

Let us know what you think.

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