You Don’t Know Jack: Breaking Out of the USQ Model

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 been the COO of the Quidditch Post 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.

Things were not easy for National Governing Bodies (NGBs) in the second half of 2014. Sure, they had won their freedom from the big, nasty, oppressive old IQA (which had then been rebranded as USQ) through an open letter and a demand for more independence. But that left them with more problems than they had time to deal with. For starters, now that they were independent organisations, they had the difficult job of meeting the expectations their members had of them. They had to elevate the level of services they were providing after all, they were independent now! There was nothing holding them back! Which, of course, meant charging people money. As predicted, that went down about as well as turning up to a national championship wearing a cape, and I delved into the fuss it caused in my last column.

However, there was one thing that made the job of these young NGBs a lot easier. Ironically, it was the very body they had just won their independence from: USQ. See, with about five years’ head start on any other NGB in Europe, USQ had been there, done that, and got the proverbial t-shirt. It provided a clear, no-nonsense model to run an NGB. And sure, there were problems with how USQ ran, such as a community demographic that was beginning to be held back by the original college-based players, and an audience that felt detached from their governing body. But that was okay, because where USQ had gone wrong, other NGBs would learn from those mistakes, tweak the model, and be better.

And so we saw NGBs across Europe adopt the USQ model. Some details differed; for example, USQ membership continues to be at high rates due to the inclusion of insurance, something that the newer NGBs did without. But the forms that organisations took were largely based on structures inspired by USQ: the formats for the season, of regionals and then a national championship, and the division of team and individual memberships was taken from USQ. And why not? It was logical, it was proven to work, and it gave these new organisations some basic formulas to get off the ground back in 2014.

But even children get older, and now those NGBs are getting older too. And as they grow, many are finding their own ways to do things. The confidence embraced by NGBs such as Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands has seen them lead the charge in national league systems. I have long been a supporter of leagues – almost all major sports have them at the heart of the game, and the regular play alongside a spread of matches over an entire season can only be a good thing for the development of quidditch both on and off the pitch. While those NGBs still have the old knock-out style national championship popularised by USQ, their smaller size means that NGB-sanctioned league play is a real possibility now that they have the density of teams necessary to support such an endeavour. Suddenly, NGBs that followed the USQ system more conservatively, such as QUK, are becoming a little old fashioned; though the Southwest League was sanctioned by QUK and has seen expansion after their inaugural successful season, there is still hesitancy from the NGB about putting their weight behind a national system of these small leagues. Is this a lack of ambition, or simply a desire not to clutter their calendar with too many events? Either way, the frustration with this approach from players is clear, with individual teams now banding together to form similar leagues of their own, such as the newly launched Northwest League.

Similarly, Quidditch Canada have habitually had an issue with their regional split; by nature, the country has a high density of teams in the East and again in the West, but relatively little activity in the centre. This poses a problem: do national events alternate from side-to-side of Canada, always pissing off one set of teams who have to travel, or do they settle for a middle ground venue that’s difficult for everyone to get to? This is exacerbated by a serious imbalance in the number of teams in each region, with far more Eastern than Western teams, causing further frictions about the cost of travel to events. By sticking to the USQ structure, Quidditch Canada arguably inherited the geographically-linked challenges that USQ still struggle to overcome. In contrast, Quidditch Australia are renowned for a more unorthodox approach, with relatively devolved regional governing bodies that sit under their NGB. Though this has its drawbacks (because quidditch really needed more opportunities for political maneuvering), it has the bonus of making a simply huge landmass manageable for a single organisation. The ability to develop talent across an entire NGB at many different levels (and Australia has excelled at this, giving opportunities at a club, national, and state level) has boosted their NGB and allowed them to develop almost in total isolation to a point where they’re winning World Cups.

Royal City vs. McGill University at Vive Le Quidditch Libre IV | Photo Credit: McGill Quidditch Facebook

We’re at a crossroads unlike one we’ve faced for years. The question of ‘now what?’ was thought to be settled years ago, with the establishment of independent NGBs. But now that question is being raised again, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the USQ model is no longer relevant, or ignores opportunities with significant potential, for NGBs across the world. The latest example of this is USQ’s newly adopted college and community split. While the issue of graduated players saturating a college team foreshadows problems associated with fewer new players finding spaces on rosters, the solution USQ chose simply does not work for all, or even most, NGBs. For example, QUK currently has nowhere near the amount of community teams needed to take on all the graduate players that would be displaced from college teams. Yes, new teams could be set up; but why would, or, indeed, should, QUK risk losing such a swathe of players by putting the onus on them to set up new teams? The foundations simply have not been laid, and may never be.

We must, therefore, be wary of blindly following in the footsteps of established organisations. Sometimes it works; I make no secret of the fact that my own Quidditch Premier League was inspired by the success of Major League Quidditch in North America, and that debt remains acknowledged on our website to this day. But too often the safety of the familiar limits our potential as a sport, and we turn away from risks in favour of tried and tested models that hide serious long-term flaws for individual situations. We should be bold, we should be alert to context, and we should develop our sport with greater awareness of the needs of the future. The size of the opportunities at our feet demand no less.

Overtime:

Some extra nuggets of news for you…

The IQA announced that the 2018 World Cup would be held in Florence next summer. While the decision to hold the event in Europe was hardly a surprise to many (given the amount of national teams based in the continent), a slightly more baffling moment was when the IQA claimed that it would be ‘the largest quidditch event in history’. US Cup is regularly significantly larger (and was even when it held the name ‘World Cup’), as is the European Quidditch Cup and the British Quidditch Cup (both of which host 32 teams). Though they later clarified this to mean the scope of the event, rather than the amount of teams or players, I couldn’t help but remember that old line about Ringo Starr. To paraphrase: ‘Largest tournament in history? It’s not even the largest tournament this season!’

In other World Cup news, several European NGBs are pretty upset at the timing of the event. The chosen dates (June 27 to July 2, 2018) fall worryingly close to several exam periods, meaning many players may be unable to attend. Though several NGBs are affected (including, bizarrely, the host nation of Italy), you really have to feel for Belgium, who pretty much got told in one go that ‘no, you don’t get to host World Cup, and by the way, no, you probably won’t get to attend it either, because fuck you, that’s why.’ If only the IQA had access to a Congress of some sort, with delegates from each NGB, who could alert them to these issues…

Finally, a hat-tip to the absolute brutality of the opening to this article covering the recent Australian State Shield. The Sydney Morning Herald takes absolutely no prisoners, especially if they’re US national teams.