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 Open – open 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.