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.