In reply to the Board on the rationale for the exclusion of JWOC members from the New Zealand Secondary Schools Team
Subsequent to publication it has come to my attention that the proposal to exclude JWOC runners from the Schools Team was actually included as a recommendation as part of the High Performance Plan. This recommendation can be found in part six of the plan, An Event Structure for High Performance, whereas the rationale discussed by the Board in their explanation, including the quote and diagram, is found in part three of the plan, Event Hierachy. Therefore I would like to apologise for saying the policy was not explicitly included in the plan, this is clearly factually incorrect and I should’ve read the plan more thoroughly.
However, I stand by my comments that the arguments contained within the plan itself are insufficient to justify the change in policy, particularly in regards to how it contravenes existing selection policy. Recommendations proposed by the plan must be looked at in the context of which the plan was written, and general support for the plan as a whole does not necessarily translate to support for this particular change in policy.
Originally published piece begins
The new policy excluding those who have been selected to the Junior World Championships team from being selected to the New Zealand Secondary Schools team was first made public as a one-line caveat within the selection notice for the school’s team. Understandably this caused a significant amount of consternation in the orienteering community, particularly among the junior athletes who would be eligible for selection to both teams. Additionally, there was also a large amount of confusion as to how this decision was made, and what the rationale behind it was. Confusion that was undoubtedly exacerbated by the apparent lack of any forthcoming explanation from Orienteering New Zealand.
Due to the Board being asked by Orienteering New Zealand members to justify the change in policy, an explanation has been published in the most recent Compass Point news (This can be seen here https://www.orienteering.org.nz/news/orienteering-nz-compass-point-e-newsletter-april-2016/). However, I believe this explanation is insufficient, and in particular fails to clarify why the decision was taken without any direct consultation.
Firstly, it’s worth acknowledging what value the New Zealand Secondary School Team has to the athletes at the moment. The Australia/New Zealand Schools Challenge is currently seen as a meaningful top-level competition, and gaining selection to the team is a source of pride for our top schools orienteers. True, there are some who currently don’t trial, but importantly that is a decision that they can make for themselves.
Therefore, we have to recognise that excluding the JWOC runners who are still eligible for the Schools Team represents a fundamental shift in the purpose of the Schools Team. Before the change, the team was a truly representative New Zealand Schools Team where all school’s orienteers were given the opportunity to trial. This approach is enshrined in the selection policy where point 3.2 states, “The objective of selection is to select a team which is likely to produce the most successful results at the competition for which athletes are being selected.” If we are selecting a representative schools team, then we select our best school level orienteers. Note that this approach does not disregard the developmental value of the team, but it is not the primary aim when selecting the team. I would like to note here that even if we do start with this premise, an argument can still be made to exclude certain individuals from a representative team, but an individual’s long-term development, the development for the sport as a whole and most importantly the individual’s personal values must be taken into account when making this decision. Such arguments must therefore be considered on a case by case basis, not a blanket ban on competing in both the JWOC and New Zealand Schools Teams.
Since the new policy the New Zealand Secondary Schools Team is valued primarily as a developmental opportunity. The Board themselves have stated that such a shift in objective has occurred, as “the Australian Schools Championship has been recognised as a development, not elite junior competition.” However, they do not acknowledge that this is in any way a significant change in perspective, nor that it impacts on the values the athletes themselves hold, and it’s disappointing this is not seen as an issue. The fact that such a decision puts the approach of the Board at odds with the values of the athletes is not in itself an argument against making the change, and indeed several good arguments can be made for the exclusion. But there are also several good arguments against it. As such, any proposed changes need to be properly consulted to allow the points on both sides to be made, and then a decision fully justified. Any less sends a message that we do not value the perspective of our juniors, or the wider orienteering community. Expecting that a single note in the selection policy would be sufficient in regards to the communication of the change is a clear error of judgement, yet there has been no subsequent recognition of this. The explanation was only placed in the Compass Point news after “we (the Board) were asked about the rationale behind the decision.”
However, on the issue of consultation the Board has argued in their explanation that they did undertake an appropriate level of consultation. They argue that the decision is justified within the High Performance Plan, and since the development of the High Performance Plan was “undertaken with thorough consultation by the Performance Leader with selectors, Junior Development Committee, past and current elite athletes, coaches and endorsed by ONZ Council” this equates to due process. Now, perhaps if the change in policy was an explicit part of the plan this would be true, but sadly this is not the case. Nowhere in the High Performance Plan is there a recommendation that such a change be implemented at all, in fact it isn’t even mentioned as a possibility. The tenuous link that the Board has made is between a section of the High Performance Plan which discusses the need to “provide a clear indication of the stages of progress which an incoming, or indeed, any, athlete needs to make on the journey from new junior to senior international level.” To provide further support of their argument they provide Figure 1: Event hierarchy and training/coaching avenues and the following quote. “The best will also at this stage have the opportunity for the first taste of international competition through the Australian Schools Championships, and will also be competing successfully at New Zealand, and possibly Australian and Oceania M/W18 level, as well as seeking selection for JWOC.”
Without analysing these arguments in depth (and at this point there are some good arguments that can be made to support a change to a developmental perspective), it’s a highly fallacious leap from recognising that there are several stages of development before an athlete reaches world championship level (as outlined in Figure 1) to that once an athlete has reached one stage they should be disallowed from competing at the level below. The same reasoning has not been extended to the relationships between other levels in the hierarchy, leading us to conclude that it is only with an extremely narrow reading of the High Performance Plan could we make this link for the JWOC and Schools teams. Furthermore, if we take the quote provided we actually find it implies that “The best will also at this stage have the opportunity for the first taste of international competition through the Australian Schools Championships… as well as seeking selection for JWOC.” Seemingly an argument that one should be able to aim for both.
As an interesting side note here, informal discussions were held between Junior Development and High Performance at Nationals (just after the selection notice was released) and one of the subjects touched upon was the future of New Zealand junior teams to Australia. The High Performance Leader, who wrote the High Performance Plan, indicated that he did not know that a decision was being made around the eligibility of JWOC competitors for the Schools Team, and that he also was unaware of who had made the decision, besides the fact that it had been raised as a possibility at the Heads of Committee meeting last October (yet it was unclear where it would go from there).
In summary, the process leading to this change and the communication of this change has been highly flawed. All members of Orienteering New Zealand must be able to feel that their voice has been heard, and, if the decision is against them, at least be given the opportunity to understand the rationale behind the decision. I believe that for these reasons the selection notice should be withdrawn, and I hope learnings can be drawn from this.