Women cricketers and a level playing field

Those readers who don’t habitually haunt the sports pages may have missed the news that Sarah Taylor, the very talented English wicketkeeper-batter, is involved in discussions that may result in her playing second XI county cricket for a men’s team in the coming summer (roughly: reserve-team at the highest level below international). She and other leading female players already play as a matter of course for men’s teams somewhat below this level.

The response among cricket followers and commentators has been by and large positive. Indeed, both the women’s game and individual women are generally treated (relatively) well by media and fans. And because of the nature of cricket, there’s no obvious reason why women with adequate opportunities, support and training couldn’t be successful at the highest level, at least in the longer forms (the shorter formats, especially T20, rely more on brute power).

However, this raises the question of whether integration is in fact desirable. Selma James seems to argue that, if the best players leave the women’s game to play for men’s teams, the women’s game will suffer. And implicit in this argument is the notion that, for one reason or another, there will never be full integration of the two.

I’ve been wondering about this sort of thing off and on for ages, and I really do not know what to think about it all. I think what I think is this. It seems that, in principle, sports that don’t rely (much) on physical strength, or in which skill can compensate for its lack, can and should be integrated at all levels. Sports that do might have to stay segregated, at least post-pubescence (assuming that we don’t just change the rules of sports such that strength isn’t a factor any more).

It also seems that, in practice, there would have to be a massive cultural change for women to get the opportunities necessary for integration at any level above the most amateur to occur. But I’d like to get straight on the principles before considering the practicals. And so far as principles go, I’m pretty muddled. Thoughts welcome.


6 thoughts on “Women cricketers and a level playing field

  1. I’m in agreement, by in large. I’ve long thought that separating men’s and women’s teams in what amounts to the same sport only perpetuates negative stereotypes about women and their abilities. To make sure all have access and opportunity to play, it certainly makes sense to group people in relation to their abilities. But doing so by gender seems an incredibly clumsy way to go about it.

    There are sub-6 ft. basketball leagues. Lots of sports have weight-based divisions. Typical club-level activities have flights that one can move between (A-F) say, based on accomplishment. If this means that, for some sporting activities, there are gender disparities between divisions, then so be it. Though admittedly, that “higher” levels of play garner societal rewards may be a problem, especially concerning sports geared strengths more commonly found in men. But at least they wouldn’t be valued as men’s sports, which is what we have today, for the most part.

  2. I used to follow Ultimate Frisbee very closely; and at least three years ago it had the following structure. There were three separate leagues at high level (amateur) club play – open, women’s and mixed. There are 7 players on an Ultimate field at all times, in mixed, there needed to be a 4/3 men/women split.

    Open is theoretically open to women, but is a de facto men’s league. However, the highest level of international play only has co-ed play available. The international teams tended to be made up of players from the men’s and women’s leagues as there was a perception (to my mind accurate, but I don’t think I followed the sport that closely) that the best players of either sex played in single-sex leagues; and the top mixed teams contained players that just missed the cutoff for single-sex teams. I believe that there were a few cases when it was accepted that this was not the case, and top players played for mix sex teams in order to play with a particular person. (There was a general sense that team selection for mixed sex teams was more difficult, as players often come as pairs, not individuals).

    The above is a simplification, but not too inaccurate; and I’m offering it simply as another data point. And I guess in particular, a data point where there is an instance of mixed sex play at the highest level.

  3. I’d worry that too much integration would, in most sports, permanently relegate women to the “minor leagues” in a way that would reduce interest in participation and viewing. I often find women’s tennis more interesting to watch than men’s because of how it’s less just power-serves from the base-line, and some people say the same about women’s professional basketball, though I’ve not watched much of that. (I don’t watch much basketball at all.) But watching low-level pro tennis, or D-league basketball games, or even minor-league baseball, doesn’t interest me much at all. I’d not be surprised if this didn’t also limit interest by women in the sports. Suppose that the very top women in the WNBA could play on a D-league team. (That might be so, but I’m not sure.) If we got rid of the WNBA, that would likely mean the end of high-level play for women at all, as a small chance to be a part-time player in the D-league is almost certainly less attractive than being a good player in the WNBA. Or so I’d think. Of course, this isn’t so for all sports- integration is near total in non-western equestrian sports, and women are clearly the larger part of the participants, but I’d be very careful about too much integration.

  4. “I often find women’s tennis more interesting to watch than men’s because of how it’s less just power-serves from the base-line”

    At risk of sidetracking the conversation, this is cyclical. When, say, Sampras was winning everything in sight, it was very true. Now, it is not so much, if at all. There are a couple of massive servers, but none of the top male players are serve/volley types. Federer essentially killed the style off in the male game by being able to turn anyone’s serve into a rally that he would eventually win. In the process, he made men’s tennis much more watchable again.

    Regarding integration: I think that in sports like tennis it would hurt the women’s game. It might even be that in most sports integration would hurt the women’s game. In particular, I’m not convinced there are many sports of which the following quote is true: “sports that don’t rely (much) on physical strength, or in which skill can compensate for its lack”. The ones that spring to mind are things like equestrian and gymnastics, and even gymnastics divides by exercise (routine? component? – not sure of the terminology) with men competing in more strength orientated disciplines.

    The risk is that if the best women are playing in male teams, the rest of the women playing the sport will receive less funding, less visibility, and less support. In sports where gender does not correlate to ability much or at all, this isn’t a problem, but I fear that there is enough of a correlation in most sports to make it problematic.

  5. You’re probably right on Tennis, NJM- I don’t watch it regularly enough anymore to have a clear idea on the very current group. (I was never a really rabid fan.) That was my feeling when I did watch with modest regularity, but it was some time ago. As I otherwise largely agree with you, I’m glad to concede this particular point.

  6. This is an interesting thread but in essence sport needs to be thought about in terms of professional and amateur because the capitalist world we live in dominates the parameter of professional sport which I suspect will not be integrated any time soon. However amateur sport is a good location for integration and as already seen, this already happens. I played netball in my younger days for a women’s team and mixed team and the same in touch rugby. But then NZ where I was doing this has a culture where sport for all is mainstream. Good conversation.

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