Artillery Row

In defence of inequalities

Some of them, at least

A new report by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket has found that the English game is racist, sexist and elitist. Cindy Butts, Chair of the ICEC and previously Deputy Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, writes that discrimination “is … baked into the structures and processes within cricket”.

I do not plan to respond to the whole of the report — clocking in at more than three hundred pages — and my criticisms here are not meant to obscure the instances of genuine bullying and unfair prejudice that it has uncovered. But I take issue not just with some of its findings but some of its premises. I’m sure it has exposed inequalities. I’m less sure that inequalities are necessarily bad.

Certainly, they can be. If a white player and a black player of equal abilities are being treated differently, for example, that’s a problem. That’s an inequality that’s being imposed on the situation. But not all inequalities are like that.

The authors of the report are horrified that men’s cricket and women’s cricket are approached differently. They must be considered “of equal value” if “cricket is to become a truly equitable sport”. “Significant pay disparities persist” and “women have the right to equal pay for equal work”. In the report’s recommendations, we hear “there should be equal pay at domestic level by 2029 and international level by 2030”.

Here’s the problem: in sport, men and women are not equal. There’s a risk of sounding smug here. I don’t mean all men are better than all women. Professional female cricket players could bowl me out for more ducks than you could find in Hyde Park — and hit me for so many runs that they could enter seven figures. Professional female MMA fighters could turn me into such a fine paste that you could pack me between two slices of bread and claim it was a tuna sandwich. 

the best men are far better than the best women

But most men are better than most women, and the best men are far better than the best women. Serena and Venus Williams were beaten by the world’s 203rd ranked male tennis player. The U.S. women’s national team was demolished 5-2 by the FC Dallas under-15 boys’ squad. Lia Thomas was an unexceptional male swimmer who transitioned and handily won the women’s 500-yard freestyle in the NCAA Division I national championships.

Granted, one could point out that lower weight classes in combat sports can be as popular, if not more popular, than higher weight classes, even if the world’s heavyweight champion is “better” than the world’s flyweight champion. But fighters from lower weight classes can make up for size deficiencies, in an entertainment sense, by being faster and more agile. In most sports, elite women have no skill at which they can outclass elite men.

True, skill is not the only sporting consideration. We also watch sports for the personalities. Kelly Holmes or Paula Radcliffe might not have beaten very low ranking male athletes, for example, but we were so emotionally invested in their careers that it didn’t matter. Sports tell stories and sheer talent is not the be-all and end-all. 

But it counts for a lot. When we watch cricket, for example, we want to see intimidating pace, improbable spin, powerful hitting, spectacular catches et cetera. We want to see the best in the world — not just for its abstract value but for what it means in a practical sense. The best men are just more capable of offering such things than the best women. No amount of investment, and training, and finger-wagging will make that less true. You can’t overcome biology.

This is not to claim that women can never be equal — indeed, superior — to men. There are a lot of levels to sports, after all. When I was young — and rather bad — cricket player, a different local team featured a girl who went on to play for the English national side. Needless to say, if her team had tried to exclude her it would have been unjust (and bizarrely self-defeating). 

Yet the search for equality as if it is always valuable, and its absence is always deplorable, is preposterous. If female cricket players are in fact less talented than their male equivalents, and if their playing is very unlikely to attract the same level of interest, the “equality” being imposed is itself unfair — based neither on aptitude nor on outcomes but on iron-clad ideological conviction.

That such an elementary fact is being ignored makes the ICEC’s insistence on vast amounts of power and funding being shunted towards EDI training, EDI assessments, EDI officers, EDI standards et cetera ad infinitum highly problematic. That these reports always seem to entail more work for people in the EDI sector is convenient itself but not the biggest problem. When “equity, diversity and inclusion” is premised on reality-denying idealism, its preeminence can only entail institutional disaster.

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