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Can Mixed-Gender Events Help Create More Interest in the Olympics?

15 May, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Back in the early 1900s, when korfball (similar to basketball) debuted in the Netherlands, it was seen as scandalous because women and men competed on the same team. Fast-forward 100 years and two decades and you have the IOC finally adding mixed gender events. And while those don’t include korfball, they are still managing to bring both interest and contention.

The question is whether they’ll stay.

The Tokyo Olympics of 2020 will see the first mixed 400 medley relay in the swimming program, a 4x400m mixed relay in track & field, a mixed relay in the triathlon and mixed doubles in table tennis. (Many events were already being contested on the international level but had not yet moved to the Olympics as a podium discipline).

Something that won’t be included in the Olympics – but is an up-and-coming sport to watch – is a anew trial event format for mixed team competitions; this discipline was offered at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) Rifle and Pistol World Cup recently held in Beijing.

Rio 2016 champion swimmer Adam Peaty told reporters he thought the introduction of mixed events for Tokyo 2020 would make the Olympics "more fun,” adding, “Obviously (Olympic competition is) very serious, but it's great to mix things up from what they've been for so long as it adds a little spice and they're great to watch."

Of course, not everyone is a fan, particularly since in some sports, events were cut to accommodate the new disciplines; according to Inside The Games, mixed team events have so far been seen as a contentious issue for the ISSF following the controversial decision to axe the men's double trap, 50-meter rifle prone and 50-meter pistol contests in favor of mixed gender team events in trap, 10-meter air rifle and 10-meter air pistol.

The IAAF, which governs track & field events, is similarly withholding judgment. It said in a statement to the BBC: "We should not expect the athletes entered to compete in the men's and women's 4x400m relays, from which the participants for the mixed relay will be naturally drawn, to compete in a third round of heats and finals for the mixed relay without allocating the appropriate space and time in the program or enabling teams to bring additional athletes."

IAAF president Sebastian Coe said: "Athletics is the number-one sport at the Olympic Games so we want to work with the IOC to drive effective and meaningful change. We will also work with the IOC on how best to introduce a mixed relay event in Tokyo following the huge success it enjoyed in IAAF world relays and Nitro Athletics this year."

Alex Capstick, an analyst with the BBC, noted, “Improving gender balance in the Olympics has been a long-stated ambition. It all means at Tokyo 2020, there will be an increase of more than 30 medal events, but the IOC is also tasked with a commitment not to make the Games even more bloated, so there will be fewer athletes. That means some traditional sports have been told to trim their quotas.”

It is, he adds, sure to lead to complaints, but that even the slow-to-change IOC is aware the viewership is getting older and fewer cities are willing to host. The addition of youth-oriented sports like skateboarding and breakdancing are causing complaints as well; however, “with advertisers and broadcasters coveting younger viewers it's a direction the organization must surely follow.”

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