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Should women compete against men in sports?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Getty / Jeff J Mitchell
*Updated 2020
The world champion US women’s soccer team is appealing a court decision about a 2019 lawsuit they brought against the United States Soccer Federation over gender discrimination, including pay equity and working conditions. This echoes the stance taken by the U.S. women’s hockey team who, in 2017, decided to sit out the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Michigan in protest of the unfair discrimination ranging from pay to equipment to publicity between the sexes in the sport. These protests once again spark the subject of gender inequality in all professional sports, questioning everything from the gender wage gap between sports teams to whether or not sports should be gender-segregated at all.
Here are three reasons why women should be allowed to compete against men in professional sports, and three reasons why they shouldn’t.


Women should compete against men in sports: 


The physicality argument is not valid for all sports

Sports are not all about physicality. Some sports highlight physical aspects while others highlight skills. Take tennis for example: Players who are stronger and more physically adept hold an advantage in some areas of the game, but players who are more talented skill-wise are better overall. Roger Federer, for example, isn’t the most physical tennis player, but he is probably the most skilled player out there. Also, nobody who has ever watched Serena Williams play tennis can deny that sheer skill is what has won her 23 Grand Slam titles (although her muscles definitely help). Her skills are what has earned her the no. 1 ranking of the Universal Tennis Ranking.

While men and women may differ in physicality, they do not differ in their skills capacity. This is why former tennis star John McEnroe faced backlash in 2017 when he dismissed Williams as the sport’s greatest tennis player and, instead, clarified that she may be the sport’s best female player. In professional sports – where the importance of skills outweighs the importance of physicality – everyone should compete equally.


Let nature do its thing

Women should be allowed to compete against men in professional sports since, like in men’s sports, only women who are good enough will be drafted to a particular team and will get the chance to play. That’s just the nature of competitive sports. It’s the “natural selection” mechanism of sports that leaves the bad players out, regardless of their gender, physicality, race or religion.


It’s society’s duty to stop segregation in sports

The socialization of boys and girls with regards to sports differs in so many ways; they’re often funneled into different directions, and their different abilities are heightened before biology makes its first mark. This is a result of historical prejudicestereotypes and of centuries of discrimination, which shouldn’t be part of modern society.

Sports are a cultural institution. They are known to be catalysts of social trends and movements. Just look at US Women’s Soccer team co-captain, Megan Rapinoe, who is a leading voice fighting for equal pay, among Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, and many others.  As long as we agree with this prejudice casting, we take part in reinforcing it. Our society must not put up with it anymore. It’s not just about sports; it’s about how we view and value one another.

Women shouldn’t compete against men:


There won’t be a level playing field

What makes professional sports so popular is “the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome,” in the words of Warren Fraleigh, a professor of physical education. Involving women in certain sports could break this tension. In short sprints, even the most talented women are at a disadvantage when competing against the average male athlete. This is due to reasons such as differences in muscle mass, innate strength, testosterone levels or socially constructed gender differences.

Today, the argument about whether trans women should be allowed to compete in women’s sports has sparked controversy. Some claim it would be cheating. After all, allowing women to compete with men in such sports would be like allowing a 120-pound boxer to get in the ring with a 250-pound boxer; it’s not fair, and fans won’t enjoy such a match. Imagine that the winning team of the Super Bowl were to be known before the season starts; the NFL simply wouldn’t be as popular. If women were to compete against men, men would have an unfair advantage from the beginning; the winner would most likely be decided before the competition even began. Where’s the sport or fun in that?


Women won’t catch up to men

There is a serious claim that once women will be allowed to compete with men, they will eventually catch up to men in terms of ability and performance. Allowing women to compete against men could inspire a huge leap in their abilities, and most of the American public believes that top female athletes will eventually beat top males.

Yet this claim overlooks important aspects: First, men’s sports will make a leap at the same time as women’s, making it harder for women to catch up. Second, and most importantly, the performance gap between the sexes is just too wide (between 8-12%), a gap that is impossible for women to bridge. The top women in 100m sprints and long jump still lag around 10% behind their male counterparts. Additionally women’s best scores in swimming or athletics don’t even reach the top 400 men’s scores. While women’s physical abilities will likely advance and the performance gap will get narrower, it is highly unlikely to disappear altogether – putting men at an unfair advantage.


The change in sports may not be welcomed

It has been claimed that “if new weight and length classes are introduced in many sports [and] if the rules are changed,” women will be able to compete against men and win in several sports. Essentially, some feel it may be worth considering changing the games so that they accommodate women. However, it`s hard to believe that the American public would want their favorite sports to change. When the NFL launched the “Concussion Protocol” in order to save players’ lives, fans didn’t like it and claimed this change would ruin football. Additionally, fans were aggravated by the MLB’s ban on home plate collision, and they still have issues with instant replay being used to make better judgment calls. In this vein, any change in sports that is made to accommodate women will likely see strong opposition by fans.


The Bottom Line: While women competing against men in professional sports would be a positive win against gender discrimination, it would reduce the uncertainty of outcomes and potentially change the nature of the games the world has already come to know and love. What do you think? Would you want to see women and men competing against one another?

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