CHISINAU, March 13, 2017 - Martial arts aren't for girls. Girls should not fight. The ideas of what a girl should or should not do are oftentimes very pronounced when it comes to sports. When it comes to boys, the skills, philosophies and discipline of martial arts like karate are often seen as a positive influence, a way to channel their energy. The benefits that the sport could bring to a girl are often overlooked. The Women's Karate Festival of Moldova aims to fight the stereotypes and bring girls into this sport. The second edition of the Festival and the first international one, took place on Sunday 5th of March.
"We organized the first edition Women's Karate Festival in 2016 on the eve of the 8th of March. The International Women's Day is a national holiday in Moldova, so we decided that a celebration of women and girls in karate on the eve of this special day would be quite symbolic," says Ana-Maria Stratu, General Secratary of the Karate WKF Federation of Moldova and one of Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games ambassadors who played a key role in the creation of the Festival. The event, highlighting karate as a sport and a as a means of breaking social barriers and protecting women against violence, is part of a grassroots development strategy of the Federation. The assistance and support of the International Olympic Committee became a major element of its development.
"Year after year, we have seen a very steady growth in the number of girls that begin practicing karate and we are absolutely delighted to see their positive development. We want to empower women and we want men to know that a woman is powerful enough to defend her rights. Karate is a sport that builds both strength and confidence and we think this is very important. The Federation is doing everything possible to encourage women to take up our sport" says Oleg Abalin, the President of the Karate-do WKF Federation of Moldova."The staff and members of the Federation, our referees, our volunteers and of course our karatekas have taken up the project of the Women's Karate Festival with great dedication and enthusiasm. Their support and our common organizational effort helped us make the Festival an international event and we aim to make it even bigger next year."
In 2014, Ana-Maria Stratu became Moldova’s first Young Ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games. Launched in 2010, the Young Ambassadors program allowed a selected group of young athletes and sports professionals to develop their knowledge of the Olympic movement and hone their leadership skills. As a continuation of the YA program, in 2016 the International Olympic Committee launched the Young Ambassadors+ Gold program, offering YA alumni the opportunity to apply for funding for projects aiming to make a difference through sports in their communities.
As a karateka who represented Moldova both at the European and World Championships, Ana-Maria knew full-well what it was like to practice the sport and what a positive difference it could make. Notably, Ana-Maria Stratu also is the country's only international referee. Her YA+ initiative, supported by the IOC, aims to make the sport more accessible to women. "What we would ultimately like to achieve is an equality of representation within the national team. We want to give girls a chance to represent our country and we want to tell their stories, because that's the way to inspire a new generation of champions and female leaders," says AnaMaria Stratu. Now, thanks to the YA + Gold program, a group of Moldovan female karatekas can practice the sport for free.
The second edition of Women's Karate Festival reunited 50 karatekas from 10 karate clubs from Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. The youngest athlete was 4 years old, the oldest - 36. The participants have showcased their skills in three disciplines: fantom, kata and kumite. The Festival also gathered a college of judges and many volunteers.
The little karatekas are a most fascinating sight. Proudly supported by their parents and club-mates, the little girls stepped on the mats with a resolve that many older athletes are lacking. Sure thing, when it comes to athletes as young as 4 or 6 for example, there are no grand expectations. In many cases, it was participation that counted. Some of the girls forgot to take their shoes off, others looked as if they lost their enthusiasm in the process of competition... Yet, there were some that fought like little tigers. You'd look at that spark in their eyes and see that they would go far. What you'd also see is that they are absolutely loving the thrill of competition. After the conclusion of their events, I saw one of those girls proudly showing off blue butterfly wings painted on her face. Another one stepped on the podium to receive her medal as a tiger... They are ordinary girls, happy, and smiling, but also confident and competitive. They will grow up strong. The skills and the philosophy that they are only beginning to learn will surely help them on whatever path they end up on and frankly. This much was clear even to a simple observer.
"The inaugural edition of Women's Karate Festival gave our Federation an opportunity to receive a tremendous amount of feedback from the athletes, the parents, the media and other organizations such as UN Women Moldova,” noted Ana-Maria Stratu.
"Our Federation is delighted that the second edition of our Festival has attracted so much interest and positive attention and we believe that this project has a very promising future," concluded President Abalin.
The support of the budding talents is already bearing fruit. Moldova's Polina Gurenko earned the gold medal of the European cadet and U-21 Championship which took place in Sofia, Bulgaria this February. It was the first medal at high level competitions and it was a girl who created history.