Ivy Pochodas dreams of representing the United States in 2002 have been ruined by the selection criteria of the United States Womens Committee. The process was biased and unfair and is detrimental to the strength of the National team and the reputation of the selection committee.
Ive previously written articles for SquashTalk about the ,mens professional world tour, and my brother Joe Kneipps exploits as one of the top players. Delicate issues concerning selection processes for an event that Joe doesnt participate in and a country he doesnt play for isnt a logical topic for me. Ron Beck, the editor of SquashTalk has asked me if I would write an article on this contentious issue. Ron has done this because he is aware I have a close relationship with Ivy. Ivy was Joes girlfriend for over two years. We first met when she traveled to Australia in 2000 with Joe. I spent last Christmas and New Year enjoying the wonderful hospitality of her family, and she lives near me in Amsterdam. For the last few months I have been giving her training games to improve her match fitness in her aspiration to make the US team.
Most people are aware of the selection criteria, including Julia Beavers special circumstances. Through a Byzantine process of mathematical calculations Ivy placed third at the Nationals and fourth in the team trials, but her overall average was fifth! Final rank was calculated at 55% Nationals placing plus 45% trials placing. However, Julia was medically exempted from the Nationals, thus her trials placing counted for 100% of her final rank.
If the Womens Committee claims that this is an "objective" system, their buzz word, its very objectivity is undermined by the fact that the system differs from one player to the next. To say Ivy is upset at the circumstances and outcome of the selection process doesnt truly portray the actual disappointment she is experiencing. She was unable to contain the tears when I spoke to her as she caught her flight to Amsterdam
"I played the best squash of my life, and they didnt pick me" Her despair was less from the lack of selection, but for the manner in which she has been omitted. How difficult it must be to play your best, to win almost all your matches, and to be told that because of a strange mathematical formula, what you achieved wasnt good enough! This is especially painful because, as she will admit, Ivy has a long history of underachieving. "I am most disappointed because throughout my career coaches and my parents have told me to ignore politics and personality and prove myself on the court, something I have struggled to do. Well, finally I did just that. This has been my most successful season and I find it nauseating that I was denied making the team. I know in my heart that I deserve it. I have proven twice that I belong in the top four."
Ivy was concerned that people would misinterpret her disappointment as bad sportsmanship and not see the underlying flaws in the selection process "I do not want to take away credit from any of the players who tried out. I never had any problems with allowing Julia to try out. She deserved it. What bothers me is that we split our matches. Why would one be more important than the other? Except for Latasha, whom I pressed hard, I have the best record against the top four players that were picked for the team. I cannot believe that I have been kept off of a team when I have beaten 3 out of 4 members. As it worked out I was the only player to play Latasha twice. In fact, I think that I wound up playing more matches against the top four than anyone else."
As I see it, the main objective when selecting a national team is very simple find the best players, and importantly the most CONSISTENT players. Selection events for important teams are usually designed so that if one of the top players has an injury, or just a freakishly bad tournament, she can still prove her value and position in the team.
One-off selection tournaments dont always produce the best team. The US Womens Committee is aware of this. Thus they created a comprehensive and demanding selection process that included two selection tournaments and several compulsory WISPA or other national events (although these were never factored in to either pre-trial ranking or the final decision).
There were two major flaws in their processmost obviously the lack of uniform criteria for each player. Ivy doesnt think the committee saw any problems in their selection process. "Before the trials started I saw flaws in the selection process and brought this to the Womens Committees attention, even though I didnt expect them to actually do anything about. The committee kept talking about their system and seemed to set great faith by it, refusing to consider that it might be wrong. At least, to their credit they stuck to this system. They kept talking about having come up with objective criteria, and by this they meant the formula for calculating the final rank. However, it was not from the start the least bit objective as it was different for one player than for the rest of us. Im sure the United States Olympic Committee who demand this objective criteria would certainly prefer head-on-head matches to be taken into account."
It doesnt appear to Ivy that that the Committee is aware of the bias to their system. "The system was shown to be unfair. I do not believe that it was designed to give Julia preference. But in the end it clearly had that consequence." The irony of the selection process that the Committee used is that it is designed to choose the players who perform best over several tournaments, yet the exception to this process favoured a player BECAUSE she was not able to perform over several tournaments. If a player cant fulfill the criteria set out for everyone else, then the process they need to fulfill should be harder, not easier, as it has proven to be. (As it turned out Julia NEVER had to play either Meredeth or Shabana.)
Ivy and Julia played each other twice, each winning one match. Ivy won more games and more points. Ivy proved herself to be one of the top four US players by coming third and fourth. She pushed the #1 to five games (Beaver lost in 3). If the same selection criteria asked of Julia Beaver was uniformly applied to all candidates Ivy would have qualified and Meredeth Quick wouldnt have.
The other, and possibly unintentional, flaw in the selection process was that the two selection tournaments had nearly identical draws, which meant that Ivy had to play Latasha before the final of both events. In the Nationals is was luck of the draw. But at the trials she should have had a chance to challenge for second place. However, the crossover between the pools did not allow a player finishing second in her pool to challenge for the top position or the second overall position (as every professional squash tournament involving pools doessee Super Series or Grand Prix finals).
As it was arranged the winners of each pool played off for first and second while the second and third place players were funneled into a separate draw for positions three through six. Acknowledging that Latasha is the strongest player, this meant that it was impossible for Ivy to finish in second place at the trials. Julia did well. She made an exceptional comeback and at the trials proved that she is in the top four in the country. Meredeth proved the same at the Nationals. Ivy proved herself at BOTH events.
Ivy is adamant that although she deserves to be on the team she feels its important to lose gracefully. This is obviously harder when she feels the system has caused her loss. Under the circumstances I find it heartbreakingly valiant that she is still concerned about the rest of the team, and doesnt want to undermine anyone elses achievements.
"I will be fine and Julia deserves credit for coming back so strongly. Im not the type to sue or challenge the decision. Although I wouldnt mind an apology acknowledging a problem in the selection. Their process damaged the credibility of US Women's squash and the Women's Committee, and allows many people to feel that rather than contributing to unified support for US women's squash at an international level, it provides evidence of its parochialism and its continued bungling. I have received a lot of support over the internet, which pleases and amuses me."
Sure squash is just a game. But when you choice to make that game your profession, its important that the rules and officiating during that game are fair and that selection is given to the worthy players. The Womens Committee hasnt done this, and the strength of the womens team is compromised and their reputation for fairness is tainted. At least Ivy will be around to have a few drinks with me during a certain week in October.
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