Hi there and welcome to Throw Forward Thursday. My name is Graeme Codrington, and come with me one last time to the future of the Olympics. We spoke two weeks ago about Bionic and robotic assisted Olympics. And last we talked about climate change and extreme weather affected Olympics.
And I want to go one more time to something that could have a really big impact on the future of the Olympics. And this one, I warn you, is a little bit controversial because it’s a culture war issue. By culture war, we mean the divide between Conservatives and Progressives in nations, in religions, in organizations. And one of the big divides and conversation points at the moment is the issue of gender. We’ve considered human beings to have male and female.
Throughout history, those have been the two big categories of gender. We’ve always known that those two categories were just generalizations. There are people who have been called intersex in between. And here I don’t want to get too technical, but gender, when I use that word, is really a social construct related to your role in society and the clothes you wear and how you do your hair and how you look. I’m probably talking about sexual identity, the biology.
And even at the biology level, it isn’t just male and female. There are some people who are intersex. They have both genitalia sets of genitalia. When you look at a genetic level, it’s even more complicated to work out where the dividing lines might be. And I think for most scientists, although this is controversial and the Conservatives might disagree, scientists are beginning to say, no, there’s just a spectrum of gender.
And we’ve kind of put a line down the middle and said half male, half female. But it’s more complicated than that. Back in the ancient Olympics, what they wanted to do with the Olympics was to find out who was the fastest, who was the strongest, who could run the furthest. And when you do that in an open field, when anybody’s allowed to enter, almost always men dominate. And the Alpha, most testosterone filled men.
If an average man and an average woman have a wrestling match, the man will win. He’s stronger. If the average man and average woman run against each other, the man will run faster. And further, it’s not true of everybody. I would not want to play tennis against any of the top 1000 tennis women in the world, but the top tennis woman in the world will not beat any of the top 100 men in the world unlikely.
And that’s just genetics and physical makeup. So one of the things we can do with the Olympics is we can say it’s men only and the Alpha man, testosterone filled men only, which is exactly what the Greeks did originally. And when the Olympics were reconstituted again a century or so ago, that’s what happened. But then you begin to say, but what about women?
And so women were gradually included in the Olympics, not immediately. And it took a long time. In fact, women were not allowed to run the marathon kind of until the 1970s.
Right? This is ridiculous.
When you actually look at the history of this, and if you’re a younger person, you probably don’t know this. But even now, for example, in tennis, at the Grand Slam tennis matches, the men play five sets best of five sets, and the women only play best of three. As if the dainty woman can’t handle five sets, women could handle five sets. Now that women run marathons, we know that they’ve got similar stamina and endurance to men. They might not be able to run as fast, but they can match what men can do.
And so even now, even today, we are still dealing with the fact that there’s a lot of people who say, well, women can’t do as much as men. But in order to be fair to them, we created this category called women. And we said, right, we’ll let the women compete against women. So the men compete against men, women against women. Now what happens if there are more than two categories?
This is not something that’s unusual. The Olympic Committee does this all the time. For boxing and wrestling. They do it on weight. They aren’t just open categories, weightlifting and others.
It’s not just open categories. There are different categories of weight and height in certain of the sports in the Special Olympics for disabled athletes or otherly abled athletes, there’s all sorts of categories because somebody with one leg is different to somebody with one arm is different to somebody who is blind. And so we understand that there are categories, and we create categories in which the people in those categories are roughly equivalent in their physical capabilities. And then we find out who’s the fastest, who’s the strongest, who can run the furthest, and so on. So it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing we’ve ever done if we did that for gender.
And, of course, transgender athletes are now forcing us to have this conversation and forcing us to think about what? About people who don’t easily fit into the male or female big boxes. Is that intersex category in between? Then there’s sort of an overlapping category of trans people who move from one to the other. We’re going to have to work out a way of deciding what the categories might be for gender in the future.
So come with me to the future where the Olympics is made up of lots of different categories to do not just with physical ability and disability, but also to do with gender and sexual biology classifications, because we are not just men and women, there’s a lot else that’s going on. And even if we were just men and women, there are a lot of subcategories there. And we do that already. Something different this week in the throwforward Thursday studio.
Yes, I am a progressive. I come from that side of the equation. I think these things are important and I think that society needs to talk about them. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how to do it and I hope that we find a way to do it that brings everybody within that we don’t bring the culture wars into our sports environment. That’s horribly idealistic.
We’re going to have a lot of fights about these, but hopefully we can get to a time in the future where we are beyond the fights, dealing with the science and enjoying the competition of human beings, trying to work out who’s the best amongst us.
The future. It’s always a fascinating place, even if sometimes it’s a little bit uncomfortable, possibly even scary. Make sure that you subscribe hit the notification button so that you never miss an episode and I will see you next week where we are going to be moving our conversation to the office or at least what the office might look like in the future.
I’ll see you next week in the future.
Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.