Mixed-gender kids rugby team via Getty
Mixed-gender kids rugby team via Getty

Peter Williams: Sexism or common sense - when should boys and girls stop playing sport together?

Opinion 13/04/2021

OPINION: They love their rugby league in Rotorua. And there’s a very enthusiastic junior competition there which as in most school-age kids sports allows the boys and the girls to play alongside each other. 

But there’s a right old disagreement in that city about a 12-year-old girl now not being allowed to play in the same team as boys because those are the rules as set down by the New Zealand Rugby League. The rule states that girls aged 12 and over are not allowed to play in mixed teams for safety reasons. So this young lady, her name is MacKenzie Anderson-Tito, could not join her teammates on the field in an under 13 tournament. 

It sounds like the situation was not handled very delicately or diplomatically but the end result was a very upset 12-year-old not able to play the game she loves, and the inevitable calls of sexism from her mother. But is it sexism? Or is it safety and common sense?

It’s a long time since I had a 12-year-old daughter but would I want her playing with some of the 12-year-old boys of today? I don’t know if this was a weight-restricted grade, but the size of some 12-year-old boys today means there are real safety concerns. McKenzie looks like she’s well able to handle herself, but does that mean you make exceptions, or is 12 too young to be an arbitrary age to stop mixed rugby league? 

You have to make the cut at some stage. Boys and girls are different. That is nature, and you can’t deny it, so somebody has to make a decision about when they stop playing in the same teams and same games. Is it sexist? I don’t think so. It’s practical, is it not?

The New Zealand Rugby League’s medical advisers say there is a dramatic increase in the risk of serious and long-term injury for girls at this age possibly due to hormonal changes in females during puberty and also the physical development of boys at this age. That makes sense to me. Does it to you? 

Or should we make exceptions based on the size of the girl, and her playing ability? Or do those sort of subjective calls make it even more complicated?

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