By Jack Lennard
Twice a month in You Don’t Know Jack, I’ll be writing out some thoughts in a regular column here on the Quidditch Post. I’ll be using my experience in administration and management to break down some of the bigger trends and issues in quidditch, looking at the wider, global scale of how the sport is developing.
About the author: Jack Lennard is the founder and Director of the Quidditch Premier League. He has previously written extensively about the IQA, and currently works in public relations. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Quidditch Post as a whole.
The International Quidditch Association. What a delightful topic with which to kick off this column. Since the global split between USQ and the IQA in 2014, the new “worldwide” IQA has fallen rather flat. Dogged by scandal, riddled with accusations of corruption and financial opacity, and something of a running joke among the quidditch community, the IQA has had a faltering start since its launch. Unbridled optimism gave way to grumbles, which gave way to anger, which gave way, ultimately, to the worst outcome of all: total apathy across the sport towards our international governing body.
However, since Chris Daw, the beleaguered former Chair of the IQA Board, suddenly departed after several new appointments to the IQA’s leadership were confirmed, the organisation has been on the rise. New Executive Director Bex Alley is showing just why she is so respected across Canada and Europe. The first annual report was not only released under her leadership, but also contained vital steps towards transparency and a seeming eagerness to improve. Various committees are up and running and the IQA’s own rulebook (as opposed to USQ’s version) is now used by more national governing bodies (NGBs) than ever before.
Of course, not everything is running smoothly yet. The IQA still betrays its progress with eye-rolling moments of ineptitude, such as the most reliable information about the location of World Cup 2018 (now less than a year away) coming from information leaked to me rather than any official announcement. But this column isn’t about going through the issues with the IQA; I simply don’t have the word count for that. Instead, let’s assume the IQA keeps getting better at what they do. What then?
Well, let’s start to look at who stands to lose from a powerful IQA. The concept may seem tautological – why on earth would anyone in the community want a weakened international governing body? The NGBs, for starters. Big NGBs like USQ have commonly held the power in the sport; they write the rulebook, they set the precedent, and they go their own way when others disagree. With the IQA becoming more powerful, NGBs allow the rules, policies, and organisational precedents to be set by the IQA. As the ultimate decision-making body, the IQA levels the playing field. That’s a godsend for small NGBs who otherwise would play little to no role on the global stage. But for an NGB like USQ, that could cause problems.
Up until now, we’ve seen little to no desire from USQ to relinquish their own rulebook team. Just a couple of months ago, a host of former International Referee Development Program volunteers were brought in to strengthen USQ’s referee team. Why go to all the trouble, though, writing a rulebook each year, when they can just leave it to someone else? There are two potential explanations for this stance: one is a desire to hold onto the authority that being the NGB setting the rules can offer, which could simply be self-interest. The alternative is that USQ simply has a total lack of faith in the abilities of the IQA to deliver an acceptable rulebook. Other NGBs though, who like the idea of USQ losing the last vestiges of their original pedestal within the sport, are eager to adopt a fully “international” rulebook. QuidditchUK are the latest NGB to adopt the IQA rulebook, even putting their weight behind more internationally contentious elements, such as a roster-wide gender maximum. All this will serve to strengthen the IQA, forcing USQ to choose; do they isolate themselves and continue writing a rulebook that offers diminishing authority within the sport, or do they play ball with the IQA and adopt their rulebook with some amendments? Either way, NGBs are being forced to either get in step or express open conflict, a far cry from the apathy that had descended just a year ago.
While ownership of the rulebook brings a certain level of authority, there is a more nebulous factor at play, and that is what I call the “point of sale authority.” When you are new to the sport, who do you find on Google? When you see the sport advertised on social media, which organisation is pushing it?
Up until now, the obvious answer would be both the NGBs and private sector organisations like Major League Quidditch (MLQ) or the Quidditch Premier League (QPL). Combining a strong understanding of local audiences alongside more focused branding and marketing campaigns, these organisations have formed the backbone of PR success and audience outreach for the last few years. But a stronger IQA threatens that. You might well ask what a stronger IQA can do to lessen the impact of those localised campaigns, and the answer is twofold; World Cup, and the roughly 70,000 followers that the IQA Facebook page has. World Cup is, quite bluntly, an easier sell than water to someone dying of thirst. It comes around every two years, so it doesn’t saturate the press in the way that an annual national championship might, it’s eye-catching, it displays the breadth of our sport, and, if the IQA actually puts some of the money they have stockpiled into the event, it can be a real showcase event.
Meanwhile, the roughly 70,000 followers on the IQA’s Facebook page is a staggering amount. In fact, it’s more than 10 times the social media audience of any other quidditch organisation. On the QPL social media, we’ve actually removed the IQA page from our stats tracking, because it simply throws off our comparisons too much. And a social media following that big, alongside the attractive image of World Cup, means that, with a little effort, the IQA can soon eclipse those other organisations in press opportunities, marketing impact, and, perhaps most importantly, partnerships with external organisations. Which would give them more resources, more reach, and more ability to outpace both NGBs and private organisations alike.
This could have any number of effects. Some NGBs will shrug their shoulders, let the IQA grow, and focus on their own nation. They’d be fools. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the only way we make this sport work is through branding, and the organisation that lets other people control their branding… well, they haven’t got control over much.
So what will we see? I believe that we’ll see a lot of very political moves in the IQA’s Congress to limit the increased direction and efficiency of the IQA, which, in my opinion, will have two consequences. Firstly, it’ll start pitting continental blocs against one another, with the smaller NGBs of Europe trying to outnumber the sheer muscle of USQ. USQ might become more open to the idea of a more united Americas continental body, especially with South American development continuing at an impressive pace. Secondly, these political machinations between NGBs will slow down the work of the IQA Congress to a crawl – and it was hardly lightning fast beforehand. This could blow up in the NGBs’ faces disastrously, as the IQA leadership simply decides to remove decision-making powers from an increasingly bureaucratic body, strengthening their executive branch instead of the democratic Congress.
We may well see an arms race in quidditch innovation as NGBs and private organisations alike attempt to take what public perception of power and authority there is left before the increasingly competent and well-managed IQA expands beyond the capabilities of a single NGB. That could be great for quidditch, as groups strive to push the sport to new limits. On the other hand, it doesn’t stop the IQA from eventually taking the spotlight for themselves.
As both informal agreements and formal bodies like Quidditch Europe rise to the fore, expect to see collections of NGBs arguing more forcefully for independence from the IQA; you can already see it happening with debates breaking out over whether Quidditch Europe should have a bank account under their name, separate to the IQA. Meanwhile, some NGBs will be put in an increasingly difficult position; Canada, for example, has previously had a fraught relationship with the US (though things seem more cordial now) and enjoy a close relationship with the IQA through personal ties between Quidditch Canada and IQA leaderships. They currently use a very unique USQ-based rulebook, but the amount of amendments (23, in total) suggests Quidditch Canada are more than happy to march to their own beat. They could prove decisive in the eventual shift in power towards a more potent international governing body, especially if it weakens the authority USQ still holds.
Finally, this conflict will impact the upper echelons of the IQA. Nicholas Oughtibridge, the current Chair of the IQA’s Board of Trustees, told me personally at European Quidditch Cup 2017 that, in no uncertain terms, he wanted to see the Board become less dominated by people from the US. The IQA has made no secret of the fact that it would like to see more geographic diversity in its Board. The three (out of a total of five) board members from the US currently hold a strong level of support amongst the Congress members that select them; could this change as NGBs develop strategies to keep a modicum of power?
But maybe you’re reading this and thinking, well, that’s no bad thing. You might be thinking: ‘I’m not from a big NGB, I think it’s good for the sport to have a more globalised nature, I think it’s time we had a united front across the world and step away from the increasingly fragmented approaches to rules and policies from NGB to NGB.’
And you’d have a point; those things would benefit a lot of players and open new doors for quidditch across the world. Giving the IQA all that power though, really relies on one very simple question.
Do you trust the IQA with your sport?
Editor’s Note: A previous version stated that USQ brought in IRDP volunteers for its rules team, this has been corrected to note that the volunteers were brought in for the USQ referee team.