New Rules Level The Field

I woke up to the power of the new gender rules during the Japan vs Australia Test Matches in May last year. I was commentating with Kylie O’Brien and, as the first game in Sydney was coming to an end, I had a realisation - we’d barely discussed the gender of the players at all. I’d commentated plenty of mixed games in the past and usually the conversation would turn early on to ‘who has the better women’ or ‘they should play 4:3 more’ or ‘one gender is carrying this team’. Often it was a focus, a strong part of the narrative, a seemingly inescapable reality of men and women on the same field.

But with the choice to favour one gender or another removed from line selection, we weren’t talking about whether the offensive team would go four men or four women to press home an advantage. We were not fixated on whether one team or another was “using their women” better. All we saw were seven players, using their skills, connections and tactical knowledge to try and win the game. And it was only after commentating and watching two amazing games of mixed in this way that I realised exactly how liberating that could be.

Ultimate Australia has announced that all National mixed events will be played using the prescribed ratio rule, otherwise known as Ratio Rule A or colloquially as World Games rules. This guarantees an equal number of men and women on the field across the whole game (or as close to that as possible) by alternating the gender ratio every two points.

I’m totally stoked (that's Nic Lelli pictured by the way, not me, although #goals).

After my experience at the Test Matches, I set about trying to get a sense from the National-level community about making the change to these rules. Many of the complaints about the previous change to the ‘endzone decides’ rule centered around a lack of consultation and warning, rather than the rules themselves. I didn’t want to see another positive change be viewed in a negative light. As a result, I put together a survey and sent it to mixed team captains around the country (with help from Anna Haynes and multiple state bodies/TDs, thank you!) to try and include a bigger group of people in an important decision.

The results were pretty stark. More than half wanted the change right away. 84.7% wanted the change eventually (i.e. not in 2017). Only 11% did not support a change. Every state and territory except NT was represented as were leaders from over 25 clubs who played AMUC, ABUC and U22s.

I asked for reasons as well. Those in favour focused on enshrining gender equity in the mixed game, removing the "default" of four men (including coming up with more four women focused strategies), speeding up the mixed game (no more waiting around for someone to signal) and showing the public and the world that we were a progressive community playing a progressive sport.

Those against were concerned about needing to recruit more females (which I think is telling in itself) and losing the tactical opportunities presented by endzone decides.

I was honestly sympathetic to that last argument a year ago, having enjoyed the extra dimension it added to the game. But when I took a step back, I saw that forcing the other team to play one gender ratio or another wasn’t a particularly positive or satisfying advantage. All it was doing was bringing my gender biases into play, making me assume things about my players or those on another team based on their gender.

In fact, it meant I was being more strategically lazy as a captain, simply thinking that the gender ratio might win us the game instead of considering how to best use the individuals we had on the field or how to counter another team’s strategy. And if you don’t think mixed has enough tactical and individual complexity without adding in a decision based exclusively on gender, you haven’t been seriously thinking about mixed.

This rule change doesn’t guarantee equality in all things (~duh~). But by removing structural biases, we can start to see beyond gender and create a more equal and enjoyable environment for everyone.

With equal game time guaranteed, what can we learn about successful mixed strategies? How can we use our players differently and redefine what we value on the field or the statistics we measure? This change helps us find enjoyment in the complexity of the game rather than the structure of the rules.

I’m delighted that this change is happening at a national level and that is has the support of a large majority of our elite community. Instituting this change at a grassroots level won’t happen overnight, but it’s an exciting opportunity to confront our biases and work towards a more equitably future.

As Laura Manescu said in her excellent series of articles on Women in Mixed Ultimate (a must read for anyone excited OR sceptical about these changes!), unsurprisingly, bad mixed ultimate mostly just looks like bad ultimate. This change is a step towards a fairer and more fun environment for everyone.


I'd love to get your feedback or thoughts on the changes, so please comment below (sign up required) or hit us up on Facebook!