Friday, August 14, 2015

Open Letter From a Kidnapped Player

By Erica Milley

I am writing this letter from the trunk of a car. This morning, I was snatched from my home in the USQ Northwest Region and am now slowly being driven  toward the Canadian border. I imagine we will arrive in a year or so. Once we’re across, there’s no coming back.

I apologize for the melodrama. But upon waking up to read the news of the new international team policies from USQ and Quidditch Canada (QC), it did feel a little like I’m being kidnapped. For the past four years, I have played for the University of British Columbia (UBC), at first in USQ’s Western Region and then in the newly formed Northwest Region. Our school’s two teams were the only Canadian teams to join USQ for the 2014-15 season and the only Canadian teams who will be permitted next season.
My experience with USQ this past year was incredibly positive. I travelled more frequently and improved my gameplay and athleticism more than in any previous season. I fulfilled my dream of playing at World Cup 8, where UBC performed beyond expectations. Our best game was against the University of Arkansas, where we lost in overtime. Our worst game was against Minnesota Quidditch, where we were taken apart by an effective zone defence.
My complaints with USQ last season were typical; there were problems with booking our rooms at WC8, we had occasional referee issues, and my flights to South Carolina were too expensive. These complaints pale in comparison to the frustrating 2014-2015 seasons experienced by many QC players, including Jamie Lafrance from North Star Quidditch, who has outlined his problems in an open letter to Quidditch Canada.
It has been suggested that Quidditch Canada’s problems stem from inexperience. In another couple years, with its feet beneath them, some believe these issues will iron themselves out. I don’t believe this is true. Rather, I believe Canada’s geography demands cross-border play, particularly in the western United States.
First of all, Canada has too small a population spread across too large an area.
There has been a lot of talk about Canada needing to split in order to expand further into untouched territory and “develop.” Of course, more teams would be great, but the realistic prospect of country-wide expansion is low. If you added a team to every team-less city with a population over 150,000 in the entire country, you would add less than 15 teams. Exactly two of these teams would be outside of Ontario or Quebec (active teams were defined by having a Facebook page active within the last 12 months).
It is not realistic to expect that Western Canada will ever be able to support even a quarter of the number of teams that Eastern Canada can support. Even if Western Canada grows, Eastern Canada will likely outpace it. It was ridiculous to try and make the bulk of Eastern teams travel to Vancouver, a city with only two QC teams, for last season’s  Nationals. Either this absurd situation will occur again, or all other teams must always spend $800 or more to fly to Nationals.QC thus faces a choice, hold Nationals in the East and have Western teams face recurring travel costs, or hold the tournament in the West and have the vast majority of the teams be either unable to attend or themselves face a heavy travel burden.
Secondly, 75 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border, which makes it immensely easier for most teams to play American neighbours than to play someone in the next province.
Why would anyone want to restrict cross-border play in this situation? And let me be clear: all indications are that Quidditch Canada requested this policy.
QC says the policy was necessary “to develop and advance the sport.” How does preventing teams from playing competitively in the US do this? UBC has become more developed as a result of playing tougher American teams. Despite competing in the US, we have never ignored other Canadian teams. UBC plays and organizes local tournaments with QC teams. The team also practiced with the mercenary team that ultimately won the  Canadian National Championship. We played a friendly with McGill Univeristy at Nationals. When we go and play distant teams, we develop and pass that experience on. Now that we’ve seen a zone defence in action, we can play it against a team who’s never seen it, and they can learn.
Quidditch Canada says without the policy, there would be “two bodies serving Americans and nobody committed to serving Canadians.” Is Quidditch Canada suggesting it was only serving Americans prior to this policy? Or would one or two American teams playing both leagues drastically change the organization’s  priorities? Would Quidditch Canada be unable to prevent itself from bending over backwards to a couple of teams from south of the border? Not to mention that if both leagues allowed international teams, there would actually be two bodies serving Americans and Canadians.
Here is the real reason for the policy: Quidditch Canada cannot offer the same league quality as USQ, and it’s losing grip on its teams. After a terrible first season, teams want out. They want a higher level of competition and better organization. Rather than allow teams to play in USQ while they work together on developing these things, Quidditch Canada is kidnapping fleeing teams and locking the door.  
Here’s another metaphor: Americans loves free markets, right? In a free market system, Quidditch Canada should be bleeding teams. Its product doesn’t work, it’s lower quality than the alternative, and, although I believe its leaders have good intentions, they are not attentive to its members’ needs. Quidditch Canada should either be improving or going out of business. Instead, it’s gone across the street to its competitors and divided up the town into two monopolies.
I don’t begrudge any team wanting to stay with Quidditch Canada. But I don’t want to be restricted to play for a league that doesn’t benefit me. I want to play the hardest teams I can, and when there’s finally a World Cup in the West, I want to attend. So if anyone out there has the car keys, I’d like to get out.

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