Do Therese and Torbjörn play the same sport?


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on March 23, 2015

Bert van ManenThere seems to be an obvious answer: yes, 3-cushion. I am afraid it is a bit more complicated than that. Once you get my point, you will realize that the answer to that question could have a serious impact on the future of billiards for women.

We’re tempted to say that Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova play the same sport: tennis. But it’s not true. Djokovic plays men’s tennis, Sharapova plays women’s tennis. Those are different and separate sports. Men don’t play women, at least not on the professional level. In athletics too, men and women have their own events. High jump, javelin, marathon, the 100 m: none are open or mixed.

Sailing and equestrian sports on the other hand, both in the Olympics, do NOT distinguish between the genders. They compete in the same events, under the same rules. No advantages, no handicaps, no “Ladies tee” as they have in golf. So is 3-cushion in the athletics / tennis, or in the sailing / horse riding category? This is a valid question, and we need to think about this.

The assumption with tennis is, that men have a physical advantage over women. Bigger, stronger, faster. Therefore, they should compete against their own gender, for reasons of fairness.  The assumption with sailing and equestrian sports is, that men do NOT have an advantage over women.  Hence, no separate events.

What about us?

I can’t see any mental or physical disadvantage for women in billiards. Obviously, women have minds as strong as men’s. Are bigger, more muscular men better billiard players?  I’ve never seen even the slightest evidence to suggest that. Jae Ho Cho and Daniel Sanchez are not exactly built like Schwarzenegger, but they can hit the ball as hard as anybody. Harder than Schwarzenegger, trust me. 3-cushion is about knowledge and intuition, about concentration and precision, about competitiveness, mental toughness, experience and courage, all qualities unrelated to a Y-chromosome. Being tall will give you a small advantage in reach, but that’s about it. All in all, I say women can do just as well as men on a billiard table.

But if we agree on that, shouldn’t we just end it there, and decide that 3-cushion is like sailing or dressage? Make every tournament open to both men and women (World Cups already are), and simply stop organizing ladies tournaments? Why would we even have those , if they can play in all the events the men can play in, and there is no glass ceiling or disadvantage?

Well, there is one and it’s big. It’s called a historical disadvantage. Men are where they are today, because they have played the game for a few centuries, passing on knowledge and skills. And they were in the millions. Women have only played for decades, and they were in the thousands. That means the odds of talents rising to the top have always been firmly in favor of the men. Huge odds: a hundred to one would be a very conservative guess.  BeforeTherese, was there ever a woman in the top 100 of the UMB ranking? I don’t think so.

The reason we have separate ladies tournaments, is to repair historical damage, to narrow a gap. Ladies tournaments are a type of affirmative action. Not that we will ever see the gap closed, not in our lifetime.  But what we do want for women in billiards, even if they are not going to beat Merckx and Jaspers any time soon, is opportunity and a fair chance.  If there are other Klompenhouwers out there, we would like them to be discovered, coached and given the chance to grow. If Therese  can do for billiards what the Polgar sisters, Judith especially, did for chess, the sport would benefit greatly.
Forget tennis and sailing, billiards is in the “chess” category. A sport where women COULD do just as well as men, but currently don’t, because they have not had an equal chance in the past 200 years.

Not that the CEB-czar Herr Rittmann, firmly glued to his seat,  will ever say it out loud, but I think HE THINKS the level of female 3-cushion is so low, time and money should not be wasted on it. And sadly, he has a point about that level. If you forget about Therese and Karina Jetten, what you have in Europe is a (small) group of female players who can’t average 0.750 to save their lives, half of them struggling to break 0.500. Matches below the 0.5 level may be exciting for the players themselves, but that is hardly sport. That is a hobby.
Here’s where Rittmann is wrong though: by having prize money in the “open” category, where 100% of the players are men, but NO prize money for women, he tells the world that he does not want this situation to change. He’s fine with it. I know it’s hard to believe, but some sports CEO’s are fond of the status quo.

I think “Brandenburg” SHOULD have prize money for the women. Mind you, considerably LESS prize money than in the Open category, and not even Billy Jean King would fight me on that. It would mean that we are willing to move forward.  It would mean we want women’s billiards to catch up, step by step. If there was ever a moment to advertize that women should pick up a cue, it is now. Therese has single-handedly taken her sport to another level: she has not only won every Ladies title there is, but also beaten a long list of seriously good male players. How good, you ask? Try Jean-Paul de Bruijn, Roland Forthomme, Jae Ho Cho and a certain Raymond Ceulemans, just to name a few. She is not going to become our Polgar. She already is.

We are miles behind our friends in Pool, here, let’s not forget that. Ewa Laurance, Jennifer Barretta, Jeanette Lee,  Allison Fisher and others have been professional players (and celebrities) for twenty+  years. We have some serious catching up to do. Women’s billiards needs a push. No prize money in Brandenburg would be a push BACK.