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Women of all ages, sizes, colour, backgrounds and abilities
are seen striving, enjoying and succeeding in a variety of sports, ending with
the caption “This Girl Can”. This was the inspiring and encouraging vision from
a 2015 sports England advertisement. But why is such an advert necessary?……


Men receive more prize money than women in 30% of sports.
For every £1000 sports sponsorship, only £4 goes to women’s sports. Only 7% of
sports media coverage is about women’s sports. 1.8 million more UK men than
women do sport once a week. In the news recently, in both Hollywood and the TV
industry, both inequality in pay and attitudes to women have been highlighted
and criticised. Similarly, gender inequality in sport is also rife.

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For years men had dominance in competitive sport, with a
historical and cultural belief that sport is a predominantly masculine pursuit.
However, as society has changed and opinions have broadened, women have become
more independent and almost equal with their male counterparts. Now, after over
100 years of women competing in sport, the thought of men and women competing
together is becoming closer and more believable. This has led to the discussion
whether men and women should compete in sporting events or whether it is better
for both genders to have separate competitions.


Since the first ever Olympic Games in Athens, men have been
chosen for specific reasons to compete in certain events. The main reason was
the physical features that an adult man has. Men have evolved to be stronger
and more muscular leading to the thought that women had no chance of ever
equaling in strength or physical ability. In addition, in every aspect in
history, men have been most dominant. It used to be thought that the man of the
family would work, lead the family and be the most important role whereas women
would stay at home, rarely work outside of the house and would rely on her husband
for money.


There are also some examples of how the Olympics and other
sporting competitions have developed sports to different gender abilities. For
example, gymnastics is a sport enjoyed by all ages and genders, but has
different events that have been chosen for each gender’s advantage. The men’s
events are floor, parallel bars, horizontal bars, still rings and pommel horse
which were designed to challenge strength and power, whereas the female events
of floor, beam, uneven bars and vault are designed to challenge elegance. It is
considered by many, to be unfair for a man to have to compete on beam as it
isn’t part of his physical build to be naturally elegant and agile. Due to

overall dominance in society, the sports which came to the
fore were those in which men excelled as they were tailored to their abilities.  Up until the 20th Century it was
thought women would not be able to compete at the same level or have the same



To get where women stand in sport today, it has taken a
gradual journey of inclusion in the sporting industry. The first main sporting
event in which women were included was The Paris Games in 1900 with 22 women
out of the total 997 competitors competing in tennis, golf, croquet, sailing
and equestrian events. In 1960 20% of all Winter Olympics competitors were
women and by 2014 it had risen to 40%.  The
biggest milestone of all was when the IOC said that any new sport that was put
into the Olympics, women would be allowed to play. This meant that any new
sport would automatically include women. Therefore, gradually the IOC have
allowed women to compete in most sports, the latest being boxing in 2012
meaning that the London Olympics 2012 was the first Olympics where women
competed in all sports.


However, in the short time that women have been competing in
sport, they have somewhat caught up with the hundreds of years they have missed
out on competing. Recent research is showing that women are better than men by
some measures such as endurance and stamina in some sports. For example, women
are better than men in marathon swimming, long distance running, gymnastics,
synchronised swimming and horse racing. Even though these are a small part of
the ever growing amount of sports played in the Olympics, it is leading
humanity closer to the equality that once women could only dream of.


There are also a few exceptions to the norm of men and women
competing separately.  Women and men
compete alongside each other in equestrian, sailing, badminton and tennis mixed
doubles. Mixed doubles is one of the most well known sport to have both men and
women and should be an example of what sporting competitions could be like:
including both men and women in a team. A sport that was designed deliberately
to do this is the Dutch game of “korf ball”. Korf ball has a team of eight
people on each side, with four men and four women. It is based around sports
like basketball and netball as each team has a 3.5 metre basket without a net.
When a player has the ball, they cannot run and can only pivot on their landing
foot. They also can only be marked by a player of the same gender to maximise
fairness between players. Korf ball is currently very popular in Europe and was
in the Olympics in 1920 and 1928 but is on a list of approved sports that could
be included in future games.


Other sports could be adjusted to enable men and women to
compete against each other.  For example,
just as football has leagues, the leagues could be set up for women’s teams to
compete. Golf works on a system of handicaps, which could be applied in other
sports to enable women to compete on a level playing field. Even for
gymnastics, events could be chosen to have a balance of those in which men or
women excelled in order to create a unisex competition.  However, whether the cultural motivation and
financial support would be behind such changes is questionable.  It would probably take more individuals such
as the PE teacher who invented Korf ball to sow the seeds at school level


Even though men and women competing together in sport would
be an huge milestone in the sporting world, problems would come with it and
possibly make gameplay worse for both genders. No matter how good a female
athlete is, she can arguably never have the same physical ability as a male
athlete at the top of his sport; it isn’t part of her physical build. This may
mean that a woman could be better than a man in some sports but as most sports
were made for men to play only, it would not be possible for both genders to
have the same talents. A way to fix this would be to change the sport and to
cater for both genders, but fans possibly wouldn’t enjoy any change in the
sport they love. As a sporting team’s large source of income, a famous sport
team wouldn’t be complete without members of the public supporting their
achievements. Unhappy fans would mean lower ticket sales and a dramatic decline
in income. This proves that even though 
gender neutral competitions would be good for equality, it could be
risky from a business perspective.


On the other hand, if women and men did compete together
there could be many positive side effects. It could encourage more women to
play sport which would lead to better health across the country. A big reason
for the gap in women versus men in sport is because people feel that they can’t
get anywhere by playing sport, but as the years have gone by and more
inspirational women are speaking out, there has been more encouragement to get
young girls playing sport and creating the next generation of winning athletes.
Women competing with men could mean that girls encouraged to play more sport;
and so the culture and attitude would improve for future generations.  This in turn could have a positive influence
on the wider issue of equality between men and women in society.


In conclusion, historically for both biological and societal
reasons, men and women have not enjoyed equality in sport. This has changed
recently, but there is still a gap in most sports for pay and public interest.
In the modern world, where equality is increasingly valued, I think the ideal
would be for men and women to compete together in sport. This would be easier
for some sports than others, but there are current examples and changes that
would make it possible. In my life time, I hope to see more women competing
with men, and hence more aspirational sporting goals for girls.


















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