I want more women to compete. I want more women at tournaments. The frustrating thing about tournaments for me specifically is: paying and not having a clue if I’ll be getting even a single match. It’s is a waste of money. Sure, it helps with my training, but the reality is: I don’t want to simply pay extra for training.

Gracie Mag had an article recently about why tournament providers should want women at their tournaments. Mundials Motivation #6: More females to improve quality of Jiu Jitsu competitions.

we’re coaxing the women to come out on the mats. The competitions are growing with numbers spilling over into higher ranks as the years go on and dedicated athletes remain with the art. A part of that succession involves a fraction of persistent women. […] Get the females on the mat to prove the evolution of women in Jiu-Jitsu.

So let’s brainstorm how to get more women to sign up for tournaments, this is exactly what you should be reading. Rather than say why an idea CAN’T work, add more ideas to the pot. Nothing kills brainstorming faster than yeah buts.

[In some cases,] treating everyone the same can place people with particular needs and circumstances at a disadvantage and is likely to considered discriminatory. Sometimes we do need to treat people differently to create a ‘level playing field’ and enable them to participate on equal terms with everyone else. – Equality and Diversity

The problem: Not enough women entering in BJJ tournaments.

I'm the ONLY woman! Therefore I'm Queen of Grappling, right?

I’m the ONLY woman! Therefore I’m Queen of Grappling, right?

Not a solution: Do what you’ve been doing. Treat women exactly like the men. Women sign up for the tournament, just like the men. If no one is there, they take their highlander medal and move along, just like the men. No prizes are received if no matches occur. No money is refunded due to no matches. This is not a solution because it’s not currently working.

Thoughts from a Tournament Organizer

Sean Maghami, from Dream Jiu Jitsu, recently posted this in a women’s grappling group:

1. It is the job of the organizer to promote the tournament, not the competitors. If an event fails to attract competitors, it’s their fault. If the brackets are always small, competitors should blame the promoter, not each other. The first 3 tournaments I organized brought in 1-3 girls. The 4th event was my first women’s tournament and 120 women registered. It was no gi, with no age brackets – meaning a 15 year-old could be matched up with a 35 year-old. Despite those circumstances, it was and still is the biggest women’s tournament in history. It was a miracle.

2. Every tournament is a business and needs to be run like one in order to be successful. The next question is: how does this business support women? When an event offers free entry, that’s one way they show their support. I think it’s pretty unimaginative, but that’s another story. Here’s another example: This year the Gracie Nationals and Gracie Worlds (Rose Gracie’s sub-only tournaments) decided to discontinue their female divisions because of consistent low turnout. Women protested and it reopened. But nothing changed – the price, the weight classes (only 3 offered), etc remained the same. The turnout was low again.

3. The biggest markets are adult men and kids. The smallest market is women. Most men who train jiu jitsu do not compete, just like most women who train jiu jitsu do not compete. No one is looked down upon, it’s just different priorities. Women have a right to be selective about which tournaments they attend, since attendance is a way of supporting a business. One of the reasons the Women’s Grappling Network was created was because women in the sport are scattered and nearly alienated from each other. Every girl who competes in my tournament gets added to the network; it makes communication between women easier and hopefully they’ll continue supporting Dream Jiu Jitsu.

If we want more women to participate in tournaments, then what can be done? I came up with several possible ideas. Maybe not perfect, but they’re better than keeping the status quo.

Perhaps Dr Horrible has our solutions. The world is a mess. He just wants to rule it.

Perhaps Dr Horrible has our solutions. The world is a mess. He just wants to rule it.

Possible idea #1: Women have free entry at tournaments

With no entrance fees, women don’t have to worry about wasting money on possibly not having anyone to compete against. Literally nothing to lose except time.

Possible idea #2: Women who enter get the big prizes

If only one woman enters, give her all the prizes. That way there is a perk; she hasn’t wasted her money, and she knows that she gets some loot. She’ll likely sign up for more loot in the future, but then other women will catch on and it will no longer be guaranteed.

Possible idea #3: Women pre-register and pay after closing

If you’re having people pay during the registration period, simply have women sign up for their categories, then pay IF another woman enters.

Possible idea #4: Have real time information about registrants

A woman signs up, broadcast it. Tweet it. Facebook it. Hey, we have a woman here, so other ladies, SIGN UP! Make that information available. I signed up for the Asia Open and could immediately look on the IBJJF website to find a list of athletes by division. Right now there are 3 including me in my division: Female/Blue/Master/Middle.

Possible idea #5: Provide some thread or message board for women

If you’re interested in signing up, please also leave a message on this thread to let other women know! Or you can ask who will be entering. Get in touch with other women about this event in real time!

Possible idea #6: Do what you can to get women a match

If two women sign up, and one signs up for gi and one signs up for nogi, talk to them. Find out if one would like to switch categories. Same if the women are in different weight categories. Only have 3 women sign up? Do some round robin/absolute situation.

Possible idea #7: Give them their money back

Or give them some kind of “next tournament is FREE” pass. I want a match, not simply to help fund a tournament. I’d like to compete, not be a benefactor.

Possible idea #8: Fewer brackets

This could be official or not official. If enough women sign up, we will divide by level or by weight or both. Or perhaps post the brackets with the caveat The weight/level categories may change, given the number of entrants. They did this with the women’s divisions in the mundials. 2012 featured the first women’s black belts only division. In one tournament they only had “women” as a division. In another, there was only above or below a certain weight, then further divided by belt.

Possible idea #9: Guaranteed number of rounds

Let’s imagine you have 3 women in a bracket, which happened in my last tournament. I only got one fight. My entry fee was $80. I got one nogi fight, and one gi fight. So each was $40. It makes it better worth it if I have the opportunity to fight more than one time.

Note on wording

The Scotia No Gi Cup 2013 on September 14  had this on their website:

Due to low numbers in previous events we have combined the womens divisions into u60kg and 60kg+. These are provided free of charge so any female competitors interested please message me to enter.

In this way, they’ve identified a problem to others – low numbers – and presented a solution. Sure, people could scream “omg sexism” but by sharing this, they should scream “omg attempted solution.” For example, I think this could also work in areas where brown belts or black belts had super low turnouts as well. Korea doesn’t have very many brown belts who compete – it’s always the same faces, and not that many. – Due to low numbers in the brown belt brackets, all brown belts will have free entry.

JiuJiu’s Note: please be a “yaysayer” rather than a naysayer! How have tournaments you’ve participated in (or have seen online) handled low women turnout? What are some other possible ideas to address the problem of low turnout of women at tournaments.