It all comes down to strength
“If Serena Williams were in the men’s circuit she’d be like number 700 in the world” — John McEnroe
Does it sound so outrageous?
It might be a little harsh for McEnroe to say she’d be so low in the ranking, but there’s some precedent to point out that men’s level of competition is way above women’s:
- In 1973 former number 1 tennis player Bobby Riggs played against Margaret Court, number 1 that year, defeating her in straight sets (6–2,6–1) with ease. And he was 55 years old at the time!
- In 1992, another former number 1 tennis player Jimmy Connors played Martina Navratilova, number 3 that year, and won 7–5, 6–2, despite having a double handicap (allowed 1 serve and Martina being able to hit the doubles alley).
- In 1998, Karsten Braasch, ranked 203, played the Williams’ sisters. He had been playing golf in the morning then drank a couple of beers before the match. He easily defeated Serena (6–1) and then Venus (6–2) while smoking cigars at every change of sides.
You could also wonder if it’s valid to say that a tennis player can be considered the greatest of all time irrespective of gender. Or should we also say the greatest female or male player?
Back to Serena Williams, can she be considered the greatest player that ever lived? If you look at what she has achieved you could certainly say she is:
- She’s got 23 Grand Slams (more than any man or woman in the Open Era)
- 72 WTA titles
- 343–48 Grand Slam record
- 4 Olympic golds
Her stats are amazing, but should we talk about her being the best female tennis player that ever lived instead of overall? I would argue that if you’re considering stats alone maybe, but if you’re considering men’s context as well then no. You either say they’re not comparable and leave it at the best female player, or compare them and weigh them differently.
The main point here is that considering the huge differences between both genders, it wouldn’t be competitive to mix them since men have a clear biological advantage over women.
Sports are strongly based on physical features and making them compete together would be like allowing players to take steroids. It would be unfair.
Transgender people in sports
This is another interesting case in which genders mix in sports. I mean this on a biological level. Men that identify as women and make the necessary changes to become a woman still remain with many male features, especially their strength (muscle and fat distribution, testosterone levels).
There are several cases of transgender females (male transitioning to female) that have won first place in women’s sports:
- Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard won a gold medal at the Pacific Games in Samoa last year.
- Transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon won her second consecutive world title last year. She even established a new world record in the in the 200-meter match sprint.
- Two biologically male students finished first and second in a state championship in Connecticut in 2018, winning again next year in a 55-meter dash competition.
- Brazilian volleyball player Tiffany Abreu quickly smashed several records just a month after joining the women’s professional league.
Isn’t there a clear advantage?
Evolution has made us different and when it comes to sports where physical strength is one of the main factors between winning and losing, we should consider having specific categories for men and women.
If you see an adult competing in a children’s tournament, would it be unfair? The same can apply to genderless tournaments. Certain biological factors make it very difficult to level the court. And the cases aforementioned speak to that.
However, it might be interesting to look at sports that don’t rely so heavily on strength like chess, car racing, archery, and test if there’s a significant difference between men and women.
I know, I know. I started telling you sports should remain gender-based but there’s always room for discussion. We might get positively surprised on the outcome.
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