Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why does Ultimate have 'Open' and 'Women's' Divisions?

Why does Ultimate have 'Open' and 'Women's' Divisions, rather than Men and Women?

Anonymous brought up the old chestnut in a comment the other day, which is along the lines of "Men can't play in the women's division, so why was there a furore last year when women weren't allowed to play in the BPL?"* Well, hope you'll forgive me for getting on the soapbox (which we normally try to avoid here at the Brisbane Ultimate Blog).

There's a lot to unpack here, but I'll have a go with a short analogy.

Think about age divisions in junior sport (leaving aside issues of a child's judgement and maturity here). Imagine an under 17 player who has the ability to compete with older players and wants to do it – they're allowed to play in under 19s.

That's why they call it "under 19s", rather than "18 and 19 year olds". And the under 19s treat this player the same as everyone else.

Going in the other direction - it's rightly considered unfair for an 18 year old to try to play in the under 17s.

For the under 17s being as a group, physically weaker than under 19s, insert women. Its fair to have a competition exclusively for women. And its unfair for a stronger division to deny entry to individuals based on the traits of the group.

Ah, but you might say, as some did during the BPL debate last year, "Under 17s are more likely to get injured because they're physically weaker", or "I as an under 19 would be worried about injuring a physically weaker player".

The answer to the first of this is that these people (when they are adult women) get to make their own decisions about the risks they face (just as physically weaker men make such decisions before going on the field (hello Alfie Langer) - typically they become more skillful.

And the answer to the second of these is to me the real killer, particularly in the future as the standard of BPL continues to rise. A women who was genuinely weaker than EVERY male in BPL would be the first one cut from a team, just as would any guy who was the absolute weakest player in the League would be cut from a team (this will become more common as the League continues along its increasing-competitive curve).

And can I just add that if any guys out there believe you can't avoid injuring another player, I suggest you drop out of Ultimate and find another sport.

This is why we have a division limited to Women, and why the other division should and will always be Openopen to all, open to the best.

*For those who came in late: for a season of last year's Brisbane Premier League (the highest level Ultimate league in Queensland), the captains decided to ban women from playing (a small handful of elite women had variously played in the BPL in the past). This was rescinded the following season. The ban was hotly debated. The desire to ensure enough players to create a sixth team for the following season may have been a factor in the change back, although I personally like to imagine (as an outsider to the decision) that reason and reflection prevailed.


Anonymous said...

I remember when Nic Shepard played in the open division at Nationals - and thank god for us girls she did. (For those of you unaware, Nic Sheparad was voted the worlds best female ultimate player in 1999 I believe).

Chris Cunliffe said...

Firstly I'd just like to say - there are so many different ways to interpret this situation and I have tried to see most points of view and to be honest whether girls are or aren't allowed to play in BPL doesn't hugely effect me, though I will say that I do lean towards not letting them for various reasons, but before the handful of Brisbane women that read this blog plan to "accidentally" pivot into my crotch next time I mark them. Let me explain...

OK so for me the problem is not that the elite women up here in Brisbane really want to play with guys in BPL, they just want a place where they can play to further hone their skills, and that is completely understandable. Now obviously the problem arises when there is really no stepping stone between WUFL/YUFL and BPL.

I don't know how everyone else feel about it, but for me YUFL is somewhat of an intermediate beginners league. Now I don't want to sound arrogant when saying this, but for someone like myself, when I go there I'm not expecting to be playing at 100%, most of the time I'm trotting around at 80%, and I can tell a lot of the other "elite" Brisbane men are doing much the same. Ultimately I don't think my game improves a whole lot when I'm playing down there, if anything I think it fosters some pretty bad habits.

Anyway so what I'm trying to get at is that I think YUFL is the problem with women wanting to play BPL. I personally think that YUFL should be split into two divisions to allow for high level mixed competition. This would not only help solve the problem of giving somewhere for Brisbane's elite women to hone their skills but also give some incentive for a guy like myself to get back into YUFL and actually play for my own development.

OK so that is what I see as the problem, and the potential solution. What I don't think is the solution is letting girls play in BPL because they have no where better to go. That is just taking the easy solution to the problem of not having a high level league at this stage. I also think that BPL teams need to stop going to these high level women as a easy solution for getting a couple of players to squeeze in that extra team because I honestly do believe it in turns diminishes BPL or the elite women in the long run. I think both genders should be looking to be proactive about the solutions and doing things the right way rather than the easy way, and in both cases the answer is recruitment, growing the sport and coaching and development.

I know it is easy to preach this as being the answer when I'm not doing the leg work, but let's be honest - women can't keep playing in BPL forever. Eventually an elite womens/mixed competition will be needed. So why are we prolonging the inevitable instead of being proactive about getting the proper systems in place to foster women's development in QLD.

With all that said, I'd also like to mention how I feel when I mark or am being marked by a girl in BPL or YUFL. In short my mindset changes massively, I almost instantly drop back to about 90%. All of a sudden I feel guilty if I do anything more than cut under, I even feel guilty if I get the disc, and despite all the girls saying "just treat me like you would any other girl" there is no way I'm going to really get aggressive for a disc if there is a girl floating around. I'm not going to try and sky, her let alone try and layout through her for fear of even incidental contact, and it's not because I'm worried about causing her horrific injury, I'm worried about the social stigma attached with it. Not to mention I get no satisfaction out of carving some girl around a frisbee field.

I have seen enough guys run into and injure girls in mixed to know that how it can completely destroy a guys mental state for the rest of game, even the rest of the day, when something like that happens, but on the flip side a bit of contact in the mens game is just part of it and I have never seen the associated guilt completely wreck a guy's mental game as a result of accidents in a mens game.

So for me I think the argument is a selfish one from both side, on the female side, you have girls wanting a place to develop their skills, and on the boys you want to be able to play in an environment where you can develop your skills for the mens game where you don't have to worry about the fear of social repercussions as a result of how you mark a female player as well as a place were going 100% is not only encouraged but expected, which I think is impossible when you have mixed gender match ups.

That is my 12.5 cents.