A 14-year study by the University of Liverpool involving analysis of over a million race results has concluded that female jockeys are “just as capable as men”. While no female jockey has been quoted as saying “I told you so”, the study is bound to re-ignite the oldest question in sport — why can’t men and women compete together?
At the Olympics, they do so in the equestrian events; perhaps horses have no gender bias. Outside the Olympics, there are mixed doubles in racquet sports, and some events in gymnastics and synchronised swimming. The cliche is: events requiring brawn for men, and those not needing it (I am loathe to say “brain” in opposition to “brawn”) as mixed events.
In theory there should be only one chess championship. The Hungarian prodigy Judit Polgar, the greatest woman chess player ever, has defeated world champions and No.1s. The list includes Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen and Anatoli Karpov. But her biggest triumph was against Garry Kasparov, who had once predicted that “no woman could beat a man” in chess.
He had also earlier described Judit as a “circus puppet” and said that women chess players should stick to having children. Judit won in 42 moves. The youngest of three chess-playing sisters, Judit was younger than Bobby Fischer when she became a Grandmaster, and was ranked No. 8 in 2005.
Likewise, there should be only one shooting championship. At the Montreal Olympics, Margaret Murdock tied for first place in the small bore rifle with countryman Lanny Bassham, but had to finally take the silver as there was no shoot-out then. Bassham had her up with him on the podium, however.
Formula One is another sport where women and men have competed on level terms. Lella Lombardi took part in 17 races and won a world championship point, the only woman to do so.
There is an argument for cricket fielding mixed teams. T20 is a good place to start. The Women’s Big Bash League and the World Cup have shown that women excel in the subtler arts of spin bowling and medium pace. Australian medium-pacer Zoe Goss played 12 Tests and 65 ODIs, but will be remembered as the first woman to clean bowl Brian Lara in a match!
Perhaps all sports are moving towards mixed competition, only the pace differs. Certainly there is a strong case for non-contact sports to be inclusive. Men’s egos shouldn’t come into it. Decades ago, when Helene Mayer beat the US men’s fencing champion, she wasn’t given the title because it was ruled that men “can’t go all out when pitted against women”. Ah well!
There aren’t too many women-exclusive sports where men are making a case for inclusion if you insist gender-equality ought to cut both ways.
T20 could be a trend-setter, though. It lends itself to experimentation. To have Harmanpreet Kaur bat alongside Rohit Sharma is the dream. Perhaps the IPL can show the way, even if it means that initially franchises might need incentives to pick women players.