This flyer was posted on FaceBook by my friend, Kate. An international and national kata and weapons champion, she competes regularly on the NASKA (North American Sports Karate Association) circuit but almost always has to travel to other states to do it - which can be expensive and time-consuming (if she has to drive). So she was understandably excited that a local tournament (only about an hour away) was offering cash prizes for female kata black belt grand champions. I was kinda jazzed about the kumite prize money myself - until I read the flyer a little closer and saw that while the men's black belt grand champions stood to win $500, the women could only win $250. She said that as unfortunate as it was, it was also sort of the norm in tournament land because there are usually close to three times as many men competing as women.
Now, I understand the economics of promoting and running a successful tournament - cover your overhead (space rental, insurance and award costs) without going in the red - but I hafta admit that I was quite taken aback by the blatant award disparity - especially since the entry fee - a whopping $75 at the door - is the same for everyone.
I found the promoter's page and asked him why women GCs were only going to be awarded half as much as the men. He wrote:
"Please don't take it as disrespect but the Women Division is too small to generate the [same] cash award. Most promoters don't offer money for a Women's Grand Champion, not out of disrespect but generally, your second round is for the Grand because of the lack of women in the division. Small tournaments in quality locations are hard to generate prize money. I am doing my best to fix all the issues with New York tournaments [and] prize money is at the top of the list."
I admire his honesty and his efforts, but the excuse seems to be...well...just that. I've never competed in NASKA or KRANE-rated tournaments, but the local and regional ones I have competed in have never given anything but equal awards for men and women, be they 6' tall trophies, shinny cups, gold/silver/bronze medals, artful plaques or prize money (check out the Ocean State Grand Nationals tourney's award listing for instance). Truthfully, I'm not sure I could, in good conscience, compete in a tournament where women earned less than men in the same categories.
Usually how it works in local tournaments is this: black belt divisions are split by age group (18 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49 and 50+). Martial artists in each division compete against each other then the winners go head-to-head for grand championship in kata, kumite and weapons. In all fairness, I've competed where there were 10 women in the 40-49-yr-old group for kata and weapons but only three for kumite, meaning there are only two fights to win before qualifying for the Grand Championship - but I've also had to fight four rounds before GCs - and in the championship fight, there are more rounds (two instead of one) that are longer. Imagine working your booty off to win the title only to be told your victory is worth half as much as the person in the next ring who did the same simply because he happens to be a guy. Exactly - so forgive me if I appear offended by that concept.
The promoter of next October's tourney said that if there are as many female competitors in the black belt divisions as in the male divisions, he will make the prizes equal, but whether that means the same number of competitors or having to fight the same number of rounds to make it to Grand Championships wasn't clear. And honestly, why should it take all that? If it's about the money, why even bother to award cash prizes at all? If the goal is to increase the number of female black belt competitors, why not send the "we really want you to come!" message by taking what is available for prize money, putting it into one pot and splitting it equally between the men and women (and children, for that matter)? Or how about halving the marketing budget by nixing the full-color glossy posters up there and using some of those ducats towards prize equity? It doesn't seem that hard to me at all, really. Am I missing something here?
And here's the kicker: other female competitors didn't really seem too phased by the idea of lower prize money for women. A few of them even said it's what they expect because it's ALWAYS been that way. One young woman even commented that since she considers the male black belt fights "more entertaining" to watch, she thought they should earn more (I had to re-read her comment a few times just to make sure I understood her correctly). And to them I say this: just because we have been conditioned to accept less, it doesn't mean we should - and if we do, we will always be awarded less. It's just that simple.
BTW, guess who's planning on putting together an all-female tournament next October? :-)