May the best person win!

Another Summer Olympics has passed and we marveled at the often record-breaking accomplishments of these athletes. But regardless of what the sport, social-cultural, political, and business commentators said about which athlete went faster, stronger, and higher in these events, there will always be one stark question to the athlete’s performance: whether it was a men’s or women’s event.

I think it’s time we question why elite athletes in non-contact sports are divided. In everyday life, divisions between men and women based on antiquated concepts of performance capabilities are breaking down. We are at a remarkable time of erasing the male/female divide for performance capabilities in this country. Most visible is a woman securing a presidential nomination from a major political party. A striking change has been our military’s combat units opening up to women to join. While women have always played a significant role in the workplace, they have encroached to all occupations from astronaut to welder. Why should sports be any different?

Naturally, we all understand there are anatomical differences between men and women. However, when comparing abilities, especially at the elite sport level, we are talking about matters of degree of performance, not matters of principle in gender.

For example, a 6’6” person (male or female) would easily outperform at 5’ 5” person (male or female) in dunking a basketball. The reason is simply a matter of degree of performance capability not a matter of principle of being male or female.

However, the difference of being male or female has no significant bearing for how one will perform in most non-contact sports. Is there a gender difference in principle for how one performs in archery, badminton, canoeing, diving, equestrian, or fencing? The list could go on! Why do men and women continue to compete separately in such events?

One could argue that socio-cultural constructs have historically favored men in certain sports. But arguments made along characteristics other than gender for who performs well in a sport have proven to be weak. For example, the notion that African Americans “don’t play golf” or African Americans “are not good at” ice hockey or swimming have proven to be nonsense.

Even if socio-cultural forces are strong for some sports, have we not advanced enough to look past stereotypes? Let’s take a close look at the real gender segregation in sport. It appears that the arguments for separate competition for men and women in sports are a contradiction to the “no significant difference” rationale that has allowed women to erase any dividing lines.

There should be no dividing of men and women for where and what they do at home and work. Let’s add play to this. In the future, we should be wishing elite athletes well with, “May the best person win!”

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