In a new article*, Dr Roslyn Kerr, head of Department of Tourism, Sport and Society, says people of similar abilities should compete in sport, not based on gender, but on the traits that result in superior performance in that particular sport.
Gender based sport may be even a form of discrimination reinforcing male superiority as natural and unquestioned.
“There is no clear connection between a person’s sex and their sporting ability. Instead, the argument that men are superior to women in sport is based only on statistical averages,” Dr Kerr said.
“Sporting results currently indicate that there is an overlapping continuum between male and female performance. If you look at a mixed gender marathon, while the top finishers are men, women often finish within the top 10, meaning that many women do outperform many men regularly.”
We can create categories which enable athletes to compete fairly against like bodies, she said.
Athletes possess a range of other traits that will influence their sporting performances, arguably more strongly than their sex.
“There are no classifications based on height, despite athletes in many sports receiving a significant advantage from being tall.”
Therefore, she is proposing a classification system based on traits such as height, aerobic capacity, or Lean Body Mass (LBM).
“Those athletes with a higher LBM, regardless of whether they are male or female, are likely in many sports to outperform those with a lower LBM. For a fair and meaningful competition athletes could be classified based on their LBM.”
The proposed system would also open up a space for smaller and less muscular men to compete in sport, which is currently not the case. Apart from in sports where a smaller body is valued, such as in gymnastics or diving, smaller male athletes are likely to receive less success or respect.
Current controversies, such as the case of South African 800m runner Caster Semenya, have highlighted how the gender policy does not encompass all bodies.
“Genetic advantages associated with sex have resulted in athletes being banned from competing while other traits, such as Michael Phelps’ ideal swimming physique, unusually good eyesight in baseballers, large hands and feet in basketballers or increased aerobic capacity in cyclists are applauded despite being similarly unique genetic conditions.”
Combined competitions also reinforce men’s positive views of women and the presence of high performing women competing amongst men can be inspiring to many beginner girls and women.