Tokyo 2020: How sporting equality is changing our world

It’s hard not to be swept up by the general excitement of how well Team GB is doing here.

But even by the standards our athletes have set so far, something very interesting happened in Tokyo this morning that won’t just change sport back home but could potentially be felt way beyond that.

I mean, of course, the gold medals Team GB won in two of the new mixed relay events, introduced at the Olympics for the first time.

In the Triathlon and the Swimming 4 x 100 metre(s) medley we saw British men and women from individual sports combining and competing together.

Steve Scott reports on a remarkable day for Team GB

These new formats are a breath of fresh air, they are exciting, and they are definitely on to something. I am not sure which was more inspiring, seeing them racing in turn or celebrating together.

If it isn’t Dinah Asher Smith’s tears, tomorrow’s newspaper front pages may well show the celebrations – as they did this morning with our two medal winning BMX bikers Beth Shriever and Kye Whyte.

They were competing as individuals in the women’s and men’s races but the respect they have for each other, their genuine friendship and the emotional investment in the other’s success was clear to see and moving too.

Adam Peaty, James Guy, Anna Hopkin and Kathleen Dawson show how much the win means. Credit: PA

Today’s scenes though were of a different order. It wasn’t just the sight of athletes from individual sports lining up together; that happens all the time.

Think conventional track or pool relays or the Ryder Cup in golf or Davis Cup in tennis. The will to win in those same-sex teams is just as strong, if not stronger, than when the players are doing it for themselves.

The difference this morning was that the male and female athletes were competing as equals, with tactics built around their individual strengths. They didn’t want to let their team mates down either.

Jonathan Brownlee, Alex Yee, Jessica Learmonth and Georgia Taylor Brown celebrate. Credit: PA

So much so, the swimmers broke the world record. But they also talked this morning of feeling less stress around being in mixed relays.

And you only have to think about America’s extraordinarily talented Simone Biles, who has today pulled out of two more gymnastics events, or Ben Stokes who has quit cricket indefinitely to know that less stress can only be a good thing.

From where I’m sitting, the mixed relays haven’t just brought out the best in our athletes in the pool and the track, they have brought out the best in their characters too.

The team-spirit, the willingness to collaborate and a genuine sense of fun – which surely is where any kind of sport begins?

Sport gets a bad press sometimes for exposing some of the uglier traits of human nature and rightly so. Often that is for the behaviour of so-called supporters.

But it also has tremendous power to influence for the good. The England football team at the Euros showed the emerging profile of Britain in a positive light through its multi-racial make-up. Today we saw gender equality smiling back at us through our TV screens.

Sir Andy Murray noted in a tweet: “How good are mixed events in sport? they are a huge asset and so many sports miss a trick not supporting/promoting them more.”

For girls and young women watching at home, it is inspirational seeing the female gold medalists on the same podium as the men.

Women and men being equal partners happens in many workplaces, but not all.

What today’s results do is normalise in the minds of all of us - but especially of the younger generation - the idea that equality works.

That’s not just good for sport. It’s good for much much more.