Recently, the Committee of Administrators (CoA), a Supreme Court-appointed interim administrative body, which takes care of the day-to-day affairs of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), turned down what could have been world’s first mixed-gender T20 match. Contractual obligations and restrictions were cited by the CoA, which stated that contracted players are not allowed to be a part of exhibition games. The campaign, #ChallengeAccepted, was launched by the IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore to break down all stereotypes and get together Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj and Virat Kohli for a mixed-gender T20 to support the notion of the level playing field.
A similar attempt was made by Mexican football club Celaya F.C. back in the year 2004 when they signed Maribel Dominguez for the men’s squad. But FIFA’s gender-specific competition policy blocked this move. Apart from badminton, tennis, frisbee, equestrian, sailing (Nacre 17) and a few others, sports still acknowledges and prefers gender over skill.
Critiques of mixed-gender sports argue reasonably regarding the physiological differences between men and women, but the debate in relation to technical standard sometimes seems futile.
Physiology plays a major role in sports like rugby, soccer and other contact sports but golf, artistic swimming, archery, shooting and various other sports are outside the domain of physiological advantage. No concrete steps have been taken by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the international bodies which govern these sports towards the issue of gender segregation. Earlier this year, it was surprising to see Augusta National Golf Club co-hosting the Augusta National Women’s Amateur for the first time since it was built 86 years ago. A similarly shocking situation is in Formula 1 where only five women drivers have entered a Grand Prix, and only two could qualify and start a race.
In all of this, the model adopted by World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) has unveiled a new trend by recognising and promoting mixed-gender teams and competitions. Though frisbee has to wait for an Olympic berth, it’s international championships have heated up the debate of moving towards mixed-gender competitions. India too can take a lot of credit for hosting and supporting the first-ever mixed-gender futsal league, Northeast Futsal League (NEFL). NEFL kicked off with six teams and participants from various parts of the world who surely prefer to be called just “player”.
The faith of Frisbee and NEFL will be interesting to watch, but if promoted and supported properly and keeping in view the novelty factor, mixed-gender sports events can be the next big thing in terms of revenue generation and most importantly for the upliftment of women sport. If the arguments of physiological and skill advantage are to be believed, these competitions are an avenue for women athletes to polish their skills. The IOC and various international bodies should pen down rules and regulations to govern mixed-gender sports, and special emphasis has to be given to issues of harassment and discrimination. It will be interesting to see how these competitions will blossom and the societal acceptance of the same.