You Don’t Know Jack: Small Leaks, Great Ships

Twice a month in You Don’t Know Jack, Jack Lennard will be writing out some thoughts in a regular column here on the Quidditch Post. He’ll be using his 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 COO of the Quidditch Post, and has worked professionally in public relations and brand strategy. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Quidditch Post as a whole.

Let’s talk about something that probably doesn’t affect the vast majority of the quidditch community: leaking. Except, like most things, even the elements that you think don’t affect you have a pretty major power over your daytoday involvement in the sport. In this column, I’m going to delve into the state of leaking in quidditch right now, focusing most on the IQA (Why? Because they’re the leakiest), and then outline exactly why it matters beyond the three or so powerful people my editor tells me this column is limited in relevance to.

Putting aside my role as Director of the Quidditch Premier League, I love leaks. I volunteer here as a journalist; more specifically because my gameplay opinions aren’t worth much compared to the other writers we have on staff I’m a political and investigative journalist. And that means that sources from within organisations willing to break the party line are incredibly powerful tools in my job. That job, incidentally, is holding the great (sometimes) and the good (every now and then) of quidditch accountable.

From a Director’s standpoint, leaks are the worst. As quidditch grows, the organisations leading its development need to enforce certain professional boundaries. That can be felt in a lot of ways, from respectfully asking that you seek official answers via email rather than over a Facebook message, all the way to fullblown confidentiality agreements. Not all of those measures are necessarily justified, depending on what role your organisation performs, but they all fall on that same spectrum of professional boundary setting. And leaks mess with that. They set things back to the rumours and gossip and social media basis of the sport that we’re trying to get away from.

But at the same time, I get it. It’s quidditch. As seriously as I take it, not everyone else will, and frankly there’s an element of hubris in expecting them to take it that seriously based on my word or a fancy job title. It’s a close-knit community filled with people who get drunk together all the time; things will get out.

So what should you do to limit leaking from your organisation? Nothing I’m going to say here is revolutionary, but I’ve sat back and watched enough organisations screw it up that I’m going to repeat it here anyway. I’m even going to use examples to illustrate my points in case my subtext wasn’t aggressive enough.

Essentially, it all comes down to getting volunteers to respect the work that they do, and the organisation they do it for, in equal measures. Getting one of those parts is easy enough; they signed up to volunteer, after all, so either they recognise the importance of volunteering within quidditch, or they think the organisation seems like a worthy place for their time and talents. But getting both is really hard.

Take the IQA, for example. The people who work there love quidditch, perhaps more than anyone else in the sport. The work they do there is thankless, done under the banner of a universally ridiculed body, and yet they’re doing some of the most outward-facing work you can see in quidditch. Why? They know that it needs to be done.

But talk to any IQA volunteer, really just about any of them, and they’ll liken working at the IQA to – god, you know, I’ve sat here at my computer for a few minutes now trying to think of a simile painful enough to do their accounts justice, but I really can’t. Use your imagination.

They can’t fucking stand the organisation they spend significant portions of their lives volunteering for. I could sit here and wonder why that is; perhaps the grinding sense that nothing they do is having any effect, perhaps the tangle of bureaucratic limbs (Congress, the Board, the Executive staff) currently paralyzing the IQA, perhaps the broad scope of the organisation limiting how much of their grand visions ever really see the light of day. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, because the end result is simple; the volunteers have lost respect for the organisation they represent.

And so, frustrated with the organisation’s lack of progress and skeptical of threats of authority their superiors hold over them, volunteers leak. They leak in the hope that the organisation will be forced to take public action that they’ll have to be listened to.

Bex McLaughlin (Assistant Tournament Director of European Games 2017) listens attentively to a speech read by Nicholas Oughtibridge (Chair of the IQA Board of Trustees) | Photo credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

That’s okay, in and of itself. It’s not great, but like I said, it happens. Things get out, and when you’re trying to sail a Titanic-bound ship like the IQA, things will get out more frequently. Often it’s about choosing your battles; differentiating between (often drunken) loose tongues and aggressive leaking as a result of that frustration.

Treating everything like it’s a nuclear code and getting volunteers to swear to secrecy is not going to help your cause. If anything, it harms it. The culture of secrecy and the lack of transparency that surrounds the IQA has long been a problem, and that’s been recognised both within the organisation (by groups such as the IQA Referee Development Team who have released a departmental plan to overhaul their opacity), and by external organisations, who have made steps to avoid the same fate.

Take USQ, for example; whilst they are certainly not leak-free, ongoing agreements with media outlets and a more positive internal culture connected to projects has led to the NGB moving away from a period where leaks and rumours dominated their brand’s presence. Another example would be Quidditch Europe, who not only release their minutes, but take great steps to condense the topics and decisions into shareable graphics to post widely on social media, inviting the wider public to become more engaged in the often tangled web of quidditch governance. By contrast, despite promises to change, the IQA’s Board meeting minutes have not been updated since September, and either there has been no meeting of Congress for over a year, or there have been no public release of Congress meeting minutes since December 2016.

When things do leak, there are right and wrong ways in which to respond to the situation. It has come to my attention that, time and time again, organisations, specifically in this case the IQA, have taken the wrong approach to leaking.

Each published leak is followed by furious and frantic emails from the very top of the IQA, swearing disciplinary hearings and firings, and hurling ever more frenzied accusations around the organisation. But they’re never really asking the right questions.

It staggers me that each time this situation presents itself to the IQA, they ask who is leaking? instead of pausing to consider why are they leaking?

I know. Hardly rocket science.

But every time one of the IQA’s leadership starts one of their broadsides into the leaking culture within the international governing body, they lose a little bit more authority and, crucially, they lose a little bit more of the respect of their volunteers. Why the fuck would any person help you if you consistently treat them like criminals?

So is it really any surprise that the IQA have little to no control over which press interviews are cleared with their management and which are not? Is it really any surprise that no fewer than five IQA representatives told me the locations of the 2018 World Cup bids, since the IQA had neglected to put out their own announcement? And is it any surprise that most of the internal IQA emails eventually find their way to me to investigate? If you’re still answering yes to those questions, without considering the root cause of the issue, then you are part of the problem, not the solution.

Which brings us to the last part of this column. Why the fuck should you care?

Well, it’s pretty simple. The more the volunteers have to rely on leaks to get anything to the public, the less the public trusts that organisation. And our organisations need to be trusted for this whole charade to work. People around the world put their time and money into the groups that run the sport; without them, there is no sport. Now, I’m not saying these organisations will collapse overnight if leaks continue. But can anyone really argue that the IQA wouldn’t be in a stronger position if it had a united front?

Similarly, it grinds down the organisations’ trust in the community. Each time the leaders of our sport close their fists tighter, the less they can relate to the wider audience they serve. More than one organisation has run into this; though they may be one of the most professionally advanced NGBs in the world, USQ is also one of the most detached with its members. Some might say that this goes hand in hand with an increased professionalism, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true, and I think it does a disservice to what is possible in the relationship between the governors and the governed. Though USQ has limited its leaking problem to some extent, it was a sense of openness and positivity that addressed the issue more effectively than slamming the doors to its castle both USQ and all other organisations in the sport would do well to remember this.

But ultimately, it’s not on the leakers to sit down and keep their mouths shut. Nor is it on the media outlets not to publish leaks (though editorial verification standards are pretty strict). It’s on the organisations to give those jaded and disenfranchised volunteers a reason not to leak – a reason to believe that the wait and the grind and the struggle will be worth it.

If they can do that, then all parties – the volunteers, the wider community, and the organisations themselves – will be stronger for it.


A few odds and ends from around the quidditch world…

I know I mentioned it in this column, but the way that Quidditch Europe has made the landmark discussions to potentially reshape the structure of the European Quidditch Cup both democratic and accessible to the wider community (through proactively advertising the process, being transparent about its progress, and inviting public feedback) really sets the bar for organisations in the sport. It’s a really encouraging move, whatever the results of the discussions.

The new UK splinter Facebook group, Quidditch in the UK, was asked by QuidditchUK to change its name recently, so potential recruits to the sport wouldn’t accidentally wander into the unmoderated dungeon of memes and bitterness. It is now called UK Capeball. It’s just as well the landscape was beginning to resemble this Monty Python scene.

A new French-only quidditch media outlet seems to be in the works. Very little information so far, but Catch Is Good is set to launch in 2018. This could be just the boost that the frankly stagnant region needs to expand parity across the country.

Finally, a huge thank you to the Northern Arizona University Narwhals, Alex Benepe, and McLaren Rianne for offering me such wonderful hospitality during my trip to the USA. I often say that one of the best things about quidditch is the warmth of its international community, and the last month really demonstrated that at its best.