That the Asian Games in Indonesia saw mixed athletics make its debut is significant in more ways than one. A few decades ago, there would have been gasps of disbelief at the concept of women racing against men, as was the case in Jakarta for the mixed 4×400 relay. Sports has a tendency to demarcate genders — the most glaring instance being the extra set men play in Grand Slams, ironically a sport that was among the first to adopt a mixed doubles category. The “two men, two women” relay at Jakarta broke a hardened stereotype.
The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will feature as many as 18 combined-gender events, including in some fields where a mixed gender pairing was deemed implausible, like 4x400m swimming, mixed judo, triathlon and three-on-three basketball. The rationale, according to IOC president Thomas Bach, is to make the Games “more youthful, more urban and include more women.” A total of 48.8 per cent of the Tokyo 2020 quotas will be female, a record, compared with 46.1 per cent at Rio 2016.
Bach claims mixed-gender events are the future of modern games, though it seems inconceivable for now that men and women can play alongside each other in a team-game like cricket or football. There have been rare instances like England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor playing Grade A cricket matches with men in Australia, or the Australian medium pacer Zoe Goss playing in a Bradman charity match against the West Indies and taking the wickets of a young Brian Lara and Jeffrey Dujon. But at a more competitive level, it’s hard to see men and women share the field in the near future. But then, the future has a way of mocking the past.