Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fair Play

2. Play fair.
                                --Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game.
                                --Every child I ever met

Apparently some members of the Federation of International Lacrosse skipped kindergarten, and perhaps childhood, entirely. I can’t think of much else to explain the travesty of a decision that they made at the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup on Tuesday night.

Women’s lacrosse teams from around the world have gathered in Oshawa, Canada to compete in the sport’s world cup. Like any other world cup, it happens only every four years and means everything to the athletes and coaches.

But it isn’t like any other world cup. It’s actually more.

As women athletes, these players not only train hard for four years, devoting a great deal of time and effort and passion and sweat and pain and sacrifice to their sport, they also pay for their own equipment and their own travel expenses. Yes, the teams may fundraise as a group, but imagine what that means to these athletes.

Imagine being young and working that hard to be the best you can be at your sport AND working a job to pay for your gear and travel expenses. You work weeks and spend weekends training. You turn down nights out because you’re in training. People give you that Are you nuts? look when you explain you can’t make whatever fun event it is this weekend because you have to train.

They do this for four years.

They become a team, they build skills, they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and quirks, they learn plays, they share the pain and exhaustion and jokes and work on the path to their goal. That goal, the World Cup, offers a chance to prove themselves, to test their mettle, to see how they’ve done over those four years.

They work so they can test themselves against the best in the world in a fair contest.

Unfortunately, what happened Tuesday night cannot be described as fair. After all the pool games had been played (five games for most teams), quite a few teams had tied records, making it difficult to seed the playoffs. Still, seeds were determined according to the FIL goal difference formula, the playoff bracket set, and a schedule published.

One team protested and, because of that protest, the FIL officials awarded the sixth through eighth seed positions based on the teams’ performance at the tournament, then awarded the ninth through twelfth seeds by drawing names from a hat. Since seed position determines which teams play in the first round of playoffs, the officials then changed the schedule. In essence, the officials changed the rules in mid-tournament, abandoning the regulations every team had agreed to, the regulations they had played to up until that point. The tournament can no longer be a fair contest.

The integrity of any human organization rests on its smallest decision. This large decision affected a substantial number of gifted, dedicated athletes, coaches, and support staff in the very act of reaching for the goals they’ve striven for these last four years. And it would never have happened in, say, the Men’s Soccer World Cup.

Take a minute to imagine a diehard soccer fan from, say, Brazil. Or Manchester. Think about how they set to work calculating the tournament ranking based on the known formula the minute the last pool game is played.

Seriously, if they drew tournament seeds out of a hat for men’s soccer AT LEAST half the world would be rioting in the streets in protest.

I want to riot a bit myself right now, but all I can say is this: encourage your daughters if they want to be athletes. Watch women’s sports with your daughters—and your sons and your friends and family, especially if you have to pay to do so. Why? Partly because “fudged” backroom decisions like FIL’s decision yesterday will continue until the eyes of the world are on them and advertising money is at stake—yes, partly for that.

Mostly I ask it because these athletes deserve to be seen in their glory. At least one team yesterday rose from the brutal disappointment of the unfair ranking to beat a formidable opponent. It was the extraordinary story of their careers so far. They play again today—who knows what story will unfold?

Every game tells a story of work, discipline, courage, endurance, skill, connection, luck, victory, and loss. The teams are the heroes. They have earned our appreciative witness.

And I believe we will be better people for watching.

You can watch the Women's Lacrosse World Cup here.

Now, in the completely biased portion of this blog, GO, SCOTLAND!!!

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