Josh CK looks at some concerns voiced about the 2014 UKU Regionals…
[Edit – this post contains views expressed by writers that are not necessarily that of The Showgame. Our aim here is to generate a fair and intelligent discussion – please see and add to the comments below for continued discussion as well as a further elucidation of many, if not all of the points brought up. JCK]
- This year’s Regionals and Nationals were not without their share of controversy. Nationals was a formerly an event that looked very much like a final tour event, held in order to find a national champion on an annual basis as well as acting as qualifiers for the European championships. The regional qualification process for the Open division was debuted in 2010 to ‘a mostly positive response’. With a lighter 16 team knockout, the new Nationals also featured a permanent site in Southampton, featuring a show pitch with live streaming. With broad changes made with long-term plans in mind (increase in competition at Regionals and Nationals, the creation of ‘the UKU’s primary “showcase” event’*), a certain amount of adaptation is arguably to be expected. However, certain decisions (specifically in the London region) have both caused confusion and incited some strongly voiced concerns. Matt Dathan writes:
- Nationals comes on the back of a controversial Regionals this year, with Clapham given a bye at London qualifiers and only having to play two games to decide their seed. This meant they rocked up at 2pm in the afternoon to play their two games, in contrast to their eventual opponents, Ka-pow and Fire of London, who both had to turn up five hours earlier and play three games before playing a fresh Clapham team.
- Fire and Ka-pow understandably issued a complaint to the UKU about this baffling contradiction of fair play. In response the UKU justified the decision in terms of logistics, claiming a 9-team tournament would have been too complicated to organise.
- Even without going into the duller arguments of the many ways a 9-team qualifying tournament could work, to sacrifice fair play for the sake of logistics is a very dangerous road to go down. UKU said they were “utterly confident that clapham wouldn’t finish lower than fifth”. Yes – you heard it – a governing body deciding where teams will finish before a disc has been thrown. This undermines the very nature of sport, not just fair play, that the outcome, however predictable it may be, is not known beforehand.
- It also emerged that UKU were actually “more worried” that Clapham would send a weakened team and therefore not take first seed at Nationals (in the Midlands region, Cambridge sent a weakened team, but were they given a bye to Nationals? No.)
- Proof, if ever we needed it, that UK ultimate is organised to suit the interests of the top teams. If a team does badly at qualifiers – regardless of who they are – they must take the consequences, otherwise there is absolutely no point in holding qualifying and the UKU may as well use seeding and qualifying from tour (which would be a huge shame).
- This happened of course last year when Manchester beat a weakened Chevron team, but the UKU still decided that they had to meddle to ensure the top teams are given their familiar route to the final.
- Maybe that’s why this year they’ve changed the seeding format (without telling us why). Traditionally, Nationals seedings are based on the previous year’s tournament, but this year they’ve changed the format and an (unelected) body has decided themselves where teams should be seeded, again undermining the credibility of having a clearly defined, automatic system of deciding seeds (as mainstream sports do). It has led to a few strange seedings at Nationals, but rest-assured, the top two haven’t been tinkered with.
- The decision to give Clapham a bye not only does it compromise the principle of fair play, but it also further distances the sport’s grassroots from its elite. Regionals is the only time amateur players get the chance to test themselves against the best – ultimate’s equivalent to the FA Cup – and the only time elite players will have to put up with playing amateur teams.
- Another new invention for this year’s Nationals is the decision to charge player fees rather than team fees. With each individual having to pay £20 each, and considering the average team size in the Open division is around 17 players, the revenue for hosting the tournament has risen significantly on last year. Unless costs have jumped equally as high, it means more money going into the pockets of a few at the expense of the many in the ultimate community.
- The sport already struggles to attract a diverse proportion of society, but the ballooning cost of playing the sport (and it’s not only Nationals) will make it even more of a white, middle class hobby than it already is.
- It is a shame that the sport seems to be floating away from principles that it has always regarded very highly. Greater accountability must be imposed on decisions and a greater say must be given to the players (and payers) of the sport. There will be much more written on this subject in the coming months.
- Dale Walker also took issue with the London Regionals schedule, and writes of a sense of the lacklustre at this year’s Northern Regionals.
- In principle, the UKU move to a regional/national/Euros structure is a smart move. It is a far more relatable structure to the US system of many years of Sectionals / Regionals / Nationals and allows for tournaments to be played on a local scale with weighted bids from each region reflecting that region’s strength (based on Tour). In theory, it should provide a tournament that isn’t too far of a commute to make and replaces the need to schedule in a round earlier in the Tour for lower ranked teams to play their more illustrious contemporaries. However, something still isn’t quite right.
- Northern Regionals saw a predictable finish with Chevron meeting Manchester in the final after both teams eased past the remaining field. However, in a theme that appears to be translated across the country, Northern Regionals saw a relative lack of engagement from many teams who saw little point in attending a tournament with no realistic opportunity to progress to the Open division. This must be considered a real area of concern for the UKU – with the shift to a regional structure, the UKU aimed to provide an opportunity for lower ranked teams to play the country’s best but this hasn’t translated into attendance yet. In the Northern region, even established powers like LeedsLeedsLeeds and The Brown didn’t attend despite having a very realistic shot of taking the #3 bid from the region. In some cases, the scheduling doesn’t even allow for the lower ranked teams to play some of the biggest draws the format is supposed to provide – Clapham qualified for Nationals before the first disc was even thrown, which seems almost an admission that some teams are too good to play against lower ranked opposition. The UKU surely cannot promote the tournament as an opportunity to play against the best then double back on themselves through scheduling?
- To further illustrate the issues at hand, Sheffield Steal ended up taking the third bid from the region ahead of Liverpool’s Vision after a convincing win in the 3v4 game to go. Steal featured a large number of LLL & Relentless players who even as a loose pickup team ended up qualifying for Open Nationals. If the regional format is to continue, these events need to become more than just a qualifier as at present too many clubs omit them from their calendar entirely. Perhaps as part of the event the UKU can arrange for the Elite team(s) in each region to provide skills clinics or something similar to create an event that is more than just a qualifier.
- The UKU website presents Regionals as development focused, promoting ‘a one-day tournament, hopefully a couple of hours from home’ which also creates a chance to ‘play against a really top team’. However, it seems there is growing pains as top teams are reluctant to accept Regionals as an important date in their busy diaries, and Regionals is not necessarily providing as much development as it could for the teams and players of UK Ultimate. There is clearly some disagreement with the handling of this year’s events – but is this a turn in the wrong direction or an overreaction to a blip in an otherwise strong transition to a new Nationals structure? Is this an issue with our tournament organising, or one that’s grown out of our player base’s attitudes towards development? Do we, and should we care more about fostering strength on a regional level, even at the expense of our own club? Would strength at a regional level arguably not always lead to longer term club benefits, whether for the elite or grassroots? As always there is no simple answer to a complex issue, but it seems one that is ripe for debate as more and more are concerned with the structuring and development of our sport. Discuss…