The FA’s ban on adult men and women playing in the same football team should be overturned, according to a University of Sunderland sports expert.
Dr Paul Davis, a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Sport at the University, argues the ban is denying talented female footballers “access to the highest competitive opportunities available”.
Male and female footballers playing in the same teams are currently banned under Football Association rules amid concerns over safety. It is also argued any overturning of the ban could be detrimental to the growing popularity of the women’s game.
However, in his paper ‘Challenging Sex Segregation: A Philosophical Evaluation of the Football Association’s Rules on Mixed Football’, Dr Davis dismisses the concerns.
He states: “It is ‘generally’ true that in sports where features such as height, weight and body mass are heavily performance relevant, the best men will excel over the best women.
“This is at least partly because ‘generally’ men have an advantage over women in terms of their aerobic capacity, explosive and maximum strength and so forth. But this argument does not provide grounds for the FA’s complete ban.”
Dr Davis goes on to argue that it is often differences in the height, strength and stamina of football players which makes the game interesting, hence there is no reason to exclude mixed teams – and in some cases female players can be “bigger and stronger” than their male counterparts.
He adds: “Body size is not of singular importance in football, demonstrated by the success of players such as Messi, Maradona, Shaun Wright-Philips and Jermaine Defoe.
“Since most of the game is played on the ground, smaller players of agility, control, touch, awareness or speed can excel.”
On the issue of safety concerns about mixed teams, Dr Davis claims the FA is happy to ignore the physical risks which result from “physically mismatched” male players – lighter players are never likely to be separated from their heavier counterparts – only to go on and insist on the separation of the sexes as necessary to create safe competition.
Dr Davis adds: “The decision to enforce a ban which prevents women from competing with men because of an increased risk to players is inconsistent at best – women have the right, just as men do, to decide what risks of harm they will run.”
However, there are concerns that ending sex segregation in football could be detrimental to the continuing development of the women’s game. Should we not be concentrating less on mixed teams and more on the most effective way of developing opportunities for women in the game?
Dr Davis said: “The conclusion that removing the ban on mixed sex football would be detrimental to the women’s game is not supported by the evidence, which suggests a lot of female players are continuing to choose to play in women’s teams even when mixed football is available. Moreover, countries such as Norway and Sweden have maintained strong men’s and women’s football leagues, despite having no age restrictions on mixed football.”
The FA first imposed a blanket ban on mixed sex competitions in England in 1902. In 1991 the footballing body gave in to mounting pressure and allowed mixed competitive matches for children under the age of 11. In 2011 this age range was extended to under 13, marking the beginning of a series of incremental extensions from under 11 to under 16 in just four years.
In conclusion, Dr Davis argues that the FA ban on over-18’s mixed football should be removed adding “isn’t it time the FA gives up its mantra that the safety of female players and the fairness of competition mean that women cannot compete with or against men?”
Sports where men and women either play alongside each other or compete on an even field remain rare. Mixed doubles in tennis and badminton fall into the former category, along with pairs ice skating and mixed sex shooting. While equestrian and sailing cover the latter.