How do we “play up! play up! and play the game”? Part 2

Cricket match

Taking the idea of sporting achievement being less about physical ability and more about mental ability (see How do we “play up! play up! and play the game”? Part 1), it seems logical to ask whether sport should be as segregated as it is? If sports were to mix more, the question of which team a transgender person might play for becomes less of an issue.

I played cricket with a women’s club for five years and I loved the game. I wasn’t brilliant, but I could add a few runs on a good day and, with a bit more practice, my spin bowling might have come on. Some of the best and tightest games that I enjoyed were played with the men’s club with whom we shared the facilities. This was not men v women, but two sides created by mixing both clubs.

For international readers, cricket is not a mixed sport. In fact, there are still people who believe that cricket is a man’s game, and that women should not play it at all. That aside, I can report that mixed cricket works. Mixing up the cricket teams created a new dynamic to the match that did not exist when the teams were segregated. Both sex’s behaviour on the field altered, which made for a more relaxed atmosphere, and both sexes changed their tactics, which made for subtle and interesting decisions by the captains.

I don’t play cricket now and, if I’m honest, I miss it. On a warm summer afternoon, there is nowhere quite like a cricket oval. Now, I spend my time on the pitch umpiring, but a part of me would like to be out there, bat in hand. Unfortunately, I don’t see how that will be possible. My reasons for feeling pessimistic have nothing to do with physical strength or how I approach the game mentally, but are entirely to do with the socialisation of the sexes within sport. I know that this is something that other transmen have encountered when it is assumed that, because they are a man, they have imbibed naturally all the casual sporting knowledge that boys pick up.

If I were to play cricket now, I would have to play for a men’s team and, although my game is on a par with women my age, I am about thirty years’ experience short for a man of my age. My game will never be matured in quite the same way as theirs. Due to the segregation of sports into those for girls and those for boys, I didn’t have a boyhood where I played cricket all summer, at school, on the beach, with friends, against a wall… For my generation, sport at school consisted of netball or hockey in the winter, tennis or swimming in the summer, and gym all year round. (The variety of sport offered to girls in the U.K. now is much better, I believe.) Had cricket been a sport that was played mixed, like tennis for example, my exposure to it would have been equal to the boys.

Tennis and badminton provide us with good examples to draw from when considering whether all sports can really be mixed. A mixed doubles match is fair: there is no unfair advantage stemming from the strength of the men because both sides have one man and one woman. Women are not at greater risk of injury when playing mixed doubles, even when going head to head in a rally with a man. As for the differing mental approaches that men and women bring to sport, it makes for a much more colourful match when they are all on court together.

Mostly, we accept that sport is segregated. We don’t think about it. It always has been. It is only when a player does not fit the binary pattern that we realise how limiting this enforced and artificial construct can be. I would encourage all sports and all players to think outside the box. Try mixing your sport. You never know, it might catch on. All the world class sports we enjoy today started with a small group of people doing something different that proved to be fun. I don’t know whether I will ever get to “play up! play up! and play the game” again, but, if I did, it would be by starting up a team comprised of men and women. I wonder how the M.C.C. would feel about that?

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