In 1973, Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs faced off in a tennis game that became known as “The Battle of the Sexes”.
King defeated the self-promoting Bobby Riggs, who was the world number one as an amateur in 1939 and later as a professional in 1946 and 1947.
The 6–4, 6–3, 6–3 victory for King, was seen as a step forward in gender equality in sports. But it was also seen as disingenuous because Riggs was 55 and also because he had beaten the then top female player Margaret Court in an earlier match, now known as the “Mother’s Day Massacre”.
The debate as to whether men and women should compete head to head in sports, however, has not died down.
At the Olympics, men and women currently compete head to head only in equestrian events. But, Margaret Murdoch in 1976 and Zhang Shan in 1992 upstaged the men in the shooting event.
Murdoch clinched the silver in the 50m rifle 3 positions event while Zhang Shan became the only women to win the Skeet gold medal.
A number of sports have in recent past brought down the barriers that have stopped women from competing against men on equal terms.
In tenpin bowling, leading professional bowler Chris Barnes went down to a woman — Kelly Kulick — in the 2010 PBA’s Tournament of Champions.
Even Malaysia’s own bowling queen Shalin Zulkifli has played in mixed gender event and has reaped in considerable success. She became the first female champion of the World Tenpin Masters in 2001 by defeating her male opponent from Finland – Tore Torgesen, in the final.
Despite the giant steps taken by an increasing number of women in a male dominated sporting world, there are still cultural, religious and even organisational restrictions in many countries.
One of the biggest arguments against women competing against men has been the notion that women are physically weaker than men.
But, not all sports event are about physicality. Perhaps physical sports including boxing, wrestling and perhaps even rugby would be disadvantageous for women.
That argument may not hold water, considering how on June 8, 1975, Jackie Townawanda knocked out Larry Rodania in the second round in a sanctioned bout at New York’s Madison Square Garden. She was dubbed the female Muhammad Ali following the feat.
Putting the physical aspects aside, many other sports rely purely on skill sets.
Whilst athletes who are stronger and more physical adept hold advantage in certain sports, athletes, who are more talented skill-wise can excel in others.
There is no doubt that men and women differ in physicality, but the difference in the skills department does not lean towards either in many sports.
The argument is thus raised as to whether in sports, where the importance of skills outweighs the importance of physicality, men and women should compete on equal terms.
This is certainly the argument that could see men and women competing against each other in sports like shooting, archery, tenpin bowling, lawn bowls, petanque, snooker and billiards.
There are a number of female athletes, who have even shown that they are not to be underestimated in other male dominated sports.
On August 30, 2003, Katie Hnida became the first woman to score points in an NCAA Division 1-A college football game as kicker for the New Mexico Lobos at the University of New Mexico. I
Danica Patrick won the Indy Japan 300 in 2008, becoming the first and only woman to win an IndyCar Series race. In 2009, she was third in the Indianapolis 500 and marked the highest finish by a female driver in that race. In 2013, she became the first female NASCAR driver to take a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole in the 2013 Daytona 500.
In 2008, 16-year-old pitcher Eri Yoshida was drafted to the Kobe 9 Cruise, becoming the first woman ever drafted by a Japanese professional baseball team.
Carissa Moore surfed her way to the 2007 Quicksilver King of the Groms event against male competitors. In 2011, Moore was the first female to earn a wild card entry spot into the Men’s Triple Crown of Surfing.
The list of women breaking barriers in sports is long and continuing to grow even longer.
There are many who believe that if women are allowed to compete against men it would dilute the competitiveness of the sports. However, if there aren’t any prejudices in terms of gender and physicality just as there aren’t any prejudice based on race and religion in sports, only the best being selected to compete against each other.
The historical prejudice and discrimination has been part of the society that balks at the thought of men being inferior to women.
There are also many who believe that even the most talented women are at a disadvantage competing against an average male athlete.
Many reasons are given to back up their claim including differences in muscle mass, innate strength, mental strength, testosterone levels and even socially constructed gender differences.
They believe that men would have an unfair advantage from the start and it would take away the charm and attraction of competitive sports.
These naysayers do agreed that women’s physical abilities and performance gap would get closer to the men. But they also feel that these differences would never disappear altogether, giving the men continued unfair advantage.
The debate would go on with both sides giving viable reasons to strengthen their case.
What do you think?