Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Interview With James Burnett, New QUK Vice-President

QuidditchUK (QUK) have announced that, following the departure of Matthew Guenzel as Vice-President a few weeks ago, James Burnett, formerly Gameplay Director, has been appointed to the prominent role. The Quidditch Post sat down with Burnett to discuss their views on the future of the organisation and the challenges that await them in their new position.
The QuidditchUK logo

Quidditch Post: First of all, congratulations! After having worked at a pretty high level for QUK as Gameplay Director for several years now, how does it feel to be moving up to take one of the top jobs in the organisation?
James Burnett: Thanks very much! It’s obviously a really exciting step to be taking, both personally as I have the chance to engage with the opportunities and challenges QuidditchUK faces on a broader level [and] also for us as an organization; I’m hoping we’ll see some exciting new blood step into Gameplay. I’d hope most people agree I’ve done well with Gameplay, but the same ideas floating around for too long always stagnate so it’ll be great to have a fresh face in charge of the major events on our calendar.
As for myself and my future as Vice President, I’m just excited to be able to keep contributing to quidditch and working with such a lovely group of people.
QP: You’ll be only the second Vice President since the organisation began. What work of Guenzel’s do you think will influence your approach to the job, and what will you change as you step into the role?
JB: Matt Guenzel has left a formidable legacy in QuidditchUK; as you say, he’s been here for as long as almost anyone remembers, and his ideas have shaped how the sport has grown in this country. I think people often underestimate the influence he’s had with things like the Hooch Initiative, and I have no intention of trying to ‘make my mark’ by undermining that or proving a point for the sake of it. Matt leaves a legacy of believing in ourselves and in our potential, ambitious goals, and leading the way in quidditch across the world. It would be naive of me to try to do anything but emulate that.
Having said that, I am a stickler for reliability, and I have experience Matt didn’t have in organization and project management, which I hope to bring to make QuidditchUK a more structured and efficient organization, continuing the improvement we’ve shown over the last year of delivering on what we commit to and being a reassuring organisation with whom players, clubs, and other parties can work confidently.
QP: In his statement on his departure, Guenzel claimed that he hopes that [QUK] will resume the great work which it has carried out in the past. How exactly do you feel QUK has changed, and why would you argue that Guenzel is wrong about the current nature of its work?
JB: This is two questions, really, and I’ll try to take them one at a time. QuidditchUK has changed in the time I’ve worked here in almost every way. Our raison d’être is still to provide the best quidditch experience we can for everyone and anyone wanting to be part of this sport in the UK, but beyond that we’ve grown so much in our remit, our resources, and our priorities. Compared to the experimental feel of BQC 2013-14, the responsibilities QuidditchUK embraces now with the major tournaments we run and sanction, and the diverse pool of staff we have, are staggering. It means we are perhaps a little more cumbersome and that’s something I hope to make strides to address internally but it’s is a price paid for more experience, expertise, and consistency across UK quidditch. People are increasingly able to know what to expect when to turn up to an event, receive an e-mail, or read an article with the QuidditchUK logo on it.

As to the great work QuidditchUK have to resume, I know I and all of my colleagues live and breathe QuidditchUK long into the night and resume that great work every day when they wake up. And you know what? It is great. I’ll never say we’ve not got acres to grow and improve into, but the Regional Cups just finished were among the best events we’ve seen in the UK game, and the quality of quidditch and refereeing displayed was evidence of how much we’re enabling our clubs and referees to flourish and supporting their growth. We’re going from strength to strength.
QP: Looking outside the UK, what are your thoughts on other NGBs which ones would you like to see QUK learn from, and which, in your opinion, have fallen into errors that you want to ensure QUK avoids?
JB: Without wanting to beget complacency, I say with confidence that among quidditch NGBs worldwide, QuidditchUK is at the very front of the pack. Our expertise, experience, and industriousness has is evident across the quidditching map; Quidditch Canada uses our snitch certification process, the Belgian Quidditch Federation’s (BQF) roster limitation policy draws heavily on QuidditchUK’s, and QuidditchUK’s referees were the backbone of the International Referee Development Programme’s success last season. I think the breadth of our ideas, the dedication of our staff, and the strength of our relationship with our members is unmatched.
Having said that, we aren’t paradigms; both BQF and the Australian Quidditch Association have nascent league systems, which is something QuidditchUK could really benefit from following with a view to adapting for the UK, and there really aren’t any tournaments yet which rival US Quidditch’s we have to learn from those every time we consider how to improve our events. USQ are also the biggest warning although both QC and the French Quidditch Federation are also examples of this of how a growing community can become detached from and at-odds with an increasingly formalized NGB. We’re lucky to be able to learn from other NGBs in that respect to ensure we keep returning with enthusiasm and fresh perspectives to our member base, making sure the trust, respect, and channels of mutual communication are ironclad. We’ve wavered on that front in the past, and it’s a constant and vital struggle to ensure we don’t lose touch with one another.
QP: What do you think the biggest challenge for QUK will be for the remainder of this season and the next (up to summer 2017)?
JB: I’ve already touched on it in a sense with my previous answer, insofar as it’s never going to stop being a huge and critical challenge to ensure we are doing what is both in the priorities and best interests of a diverse membership. For me, QuidditchUK’s growth and success over the past two seasons is cause for huge celebration but it’s also only escalated expectations and criticisms of us, and we need to make sure we keep rising to those challenges. The Strategic Plan another huge contribution of my predecessor’s, by the way is an ambitious set of commitments; important, to be sure, but we’re going to have to keep at the top of our game to live up to them. We are rightly expected to keep growing in transparency, accountability, and efficiency as time goes by, and when you’re held to account by people as passionate about the sport as we ourselves are, there’s not much room for slack.

On a more terrestrial level, however, I think QuidditchUK’s biggest two challenges over the next two seasons will be making sure that our national championships adequately reflect the teams across the country in 2016-17 when we will undoubtedly have too many teams for one big all-inclusive weekend event, and making sure that our metaphorical (or literal?) trophy cabinet has both the World Cup 2016 and European Games 2017 trophies in it.
QP: You were TD for BQC 2014-15, what will you take from that experience to make BQC 2015-16 better, and how could the TD committee structure be improved in your opinion?
JB: BQC 2014-15 set a lot of excellent precedents in organization and structure which I have been happy to see evolve into Regionals this season, but we also had some basic oversights in pitch quality and facilities which needed to be addressed; Northern Cup and Southern Cup did that, and we’ll carry those strengths into future events.

I’m not going to hold court for long on the outcomes of BQCs past and the prospects of those in the future; the BQC 14-15 review was nothing if not comprehensive and to go into too much detail would be to step on the toes of my successor in Gameplay. But I am conscious that we flew too close to the sun in aspects of the last BQC, and I’d hope to see us retaining that ambition going forward whilst being a bit more measured. As you allude to, the organizational structure is a big part of that where BQC 14-15 had too much communal responsibility in a small team, in future I’d like to see individuals in clearly delegated roles focusing on specific tasks and priorities.
QP: And finally, where do you see the sport in the UK in five years time?
JB: I think the main thing that will have to change is the infrastructure of quidditch. If we sustain even a fraction of the annual growth that we’re currently undergoing, UK quidditch in 2020 will be far too big to be competed by hauling as many people as will fit into a field for two days and making them beat each other up. We’ll need to have established the means and structure to have organized, regular competition between teams throughout the season, perhaps culminating in one or two big flagship events but no longer structured around them.

I also expect to see the development of clubs to mirror th[at] of NGBs. Whilst we have the hints of a few of the more established clubs Southampton Quidditch Club and Oxford University Quidditch Club come to mind which are feeling more like entities than groups of individuals, there is still a sense that most quidditch clubs are groups of friends with a few responsibilities. As QuidditchUK has had to grow into a formalized organization, I think the next few years will see clubs mirror that to deal with more structured competition, higher intakes, and the need for more comprehensive leadership both on and off the pitch. Whilst universities will always be a bedrock of the community, I also think this process will see quidditch becoming less and less tied to student lifestyles and university term dates.

On a broader scale I also hope to see us far more ingrained in the national consciousness, moving into schools and sports clubs. We should be recognized as the new, exciting, up-and-coming sport that we are.

Finally, I expect UK quidditch to still be at at an elite level in five years’ time, continuing to be serious contenders for each European Games and also for each World Cup.
QP: Thank you so much for your time, and congratulations once again on your new position!

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