Why aren't many professional sports mixed together?

Mixed competitions at the Olympics: mix!

For the first time since 1924, mixed tennis is again Olympic. Badminton has been played mixed since 1996. Can the Olympics ensure that mixed competitions are more widely accepted?

When the boy with the girl: Andy Murray and Laura Robson are the British mixed duo in tennis. Image: dpa

And suddenly people are interested in mixed tennis - another effect at the Olympics. During the four Grand Slam tournaments, where mixed doubles are a given, hardly anyone looks. But now that Mixed is Olympic again for the first time and it's about medals, this competition is also moving into focus. OK then!

Sabine Lisicki and Christopher Kas have reached the semifinals with a 4: 6, 7: 6, 10: 7 (in the match tie-break) against Roberta Vinci and Daniele Bracchiali, they now have a good chance of bronze or more. But above all, they could become ambassadors for the mixed competitions.

Or better: The mixed teams in badminton or tennis should make you think about why there are not joint competitions in many more sports. But can tennis even serve as a symbol of equality and gender progress in sport?

Historically, no. The fact that men and women form a team together has probably the greatest tradition in tennis, where the first mixed competitions were held at the US Open as early as 1892, in Wimbledon since 1913. Back then, when tennis was a very elitist affair, mixed was possible By no means call doubles emancipatory.

"For me it was more the conservative side of tennis," says Heiner Gillmeister, Bonn sports scientist and author of a book on Olympic tennis history. “In front of the net stood the man and was the king, and in the back the cleaning woman was playing.” She was then allowed to run after the balls that the man did not get.

In competitive sports it is generally not common for men and women to be on the pitch together. Mixed is now only widespread in the setback sports of tennis, badminton, table tennis and beach volleyball - in recreational sports anyway, but also in the professional sector.

Will gender flexibility soon also appear in other disciplines? "The more athletics and the physical play a role, the less it is conceivable," says Gillmeister. "But if you look at the performance of swimmer Ye Shiwen, you could soon imagine mixed relays."

In London, women and men compete together in horse riding, tennis and badminton. In badminton, mixed pairs have been fighting for medals since 1996. In tennis, an Olympic mixed competition is not held again until this year, the last one being held in 1924. When it comes to riding, one does not speak of mixed, there it is traditionally more common to compete in teams.

Mixed tennis was first mentioned in the late 19th century. The mixed doubles had a different character back then, tennis was a sport of the upper classes. If men and women played tennis together here, it was more like a dance ball. “In the popular sport of that time, you could call engagement tennis - that was a sport where the sexes came together and where marriages were initiated in mixed pairs,” says Heiner Gillmeister.

Mixed is by no means seen as an early emancipatory act. "Today, however, I would consider the couples to be equal," said Gillmeister. At the Tennis Grand Slams, the mixed pairs and the doubles can come together as they please.

You don't have to form a national team - as with the Olympics. Also different in London: Only players who also start in one of the four other competitions are allowed to participate. Background: They wanted to avoid specializing in mixed games and not allow athletes to "only" get to the Olympics in this way.

This “only” generally stands for the importance of the mixed competitions. The attention at the Olympics may be given because there is also precious metal to be won in mixed - pimping up the medal table is always interesting for the nation. "But nobody wants to see that at the Grand Slams," says Gillmeister, "I was just at Wimbledon and the interest is very, very moderate."

Mixed tennis may have played a pioneering role in sports such as badminton, beach volleyball or table tennis - but the mixed competitions remained “under further”, according to Gillmeister. For team sports, he doesn't like to believe in an Olympic future with mixed teams.

“The difference in performance doesn't seem as big in the setback sports as in some ball sports,” he says. However, he believes that opening up to other disciplines is conceivable. "A mixed relay in swimming, for example, would be great."

When Sabine Lisicki and Christopher Kas step back onto the pitch together in the semifinals, they should also ensure that their competition is not just devalued as a fun and fringe discipline. Then man and woman with clubs in hand could almost become a small, gender-sensitive Olympic movement. Unite, boys and girls, unite!