Monday, August 20, 2018

Post Worlds Thoughts

The 2018 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships ended on Saturday in San José, Costa Rica, and the 19th Worlds were remarkable in many ways. Let’s review them.

On Court

This was the third World Championships with gold medalists from three different countries. This year players from Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico won gold. This first happened in 2006, when gold was taken home by players from Canada, Mexico and the USA, then again in 2014, when gold went to Colombia, Mexico and the USA.

This a far cry from the years when the USA swept gold at Worlds. That’s happened five times: 1981 - the first World Championships - 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008. And for the first nine World Championships gold only went to the USA or Canada.

But this year no Canadian or USA women reached the podium for the first time ever. If you needed any proof of how the balance of power has changed in racquetball, there it is.

Gabriela Martinez’s win in Women’s Singles was the first by a teenage woman. The other Women’s Singles World Champions all won for the first time in their 20s except for Cheryl Gudinas (USA), who was 33 when she won for the first time in 2000.

Martinez isn’t the only player to win singles as a teenager though, as Jack Huczek (USA) won his first Men’s Singles World Championship at 19 in 2002. But Huczek’s birthday is in January and Martinez’s in August, so she won at a younger age.

However, Martinez wasn’t the youngest gold medalist in San José. Valeria Centellas of Bolivia, half of the team that won Women’s Doubles (partnering Yasmine Sabja), won Girl’s U16 Doubles last year at the World Junior Championships, so she has to be younger than Martinez, who turned 19 earlier this month. Centellas could be the youngest Worlds gold medalist ever.

In Men’s Singles, Rodrigo Montoya of Mexico wasn’t only the second World Champion from Mexico (after Alvaro Beltran in 2000), he is the second World Champion born on June 4. Egan Inoue (USA) who won two World Championships (in 1986 & 1990) was also born on June 4. Furthermore two other Men’s Singles World Champions were also born in June: Andy Roberts (USA) and Sherman Greenfeld (Canada).

Off Court

The IRF has improved how international events operate in recent years. They’ve implemented a referee development program, so no athletes need to referee at either senior or junior events. That’s great.

Also, they have implemented live streaming of matches at events, so those of us who are not at the event can follow the action. Those matches are also available for re-watching after the fact, in case you want to see it all again - “how did he win that match?!?” - or just enjoy some great racquetball on line.

But the IRF is also APPALLING in some of the ways that it communicates, or rather fails to communicate, what is happening or going to happen at their events. Case one: last week the results of the quarterfinals were not available on line promptly after the matches were over. Those results were not even up the next morning!

When this situation was related to an IRF official, he seemed unconcerned. We related this story to a racquetball enthusiast who responded “how is it possible for us to be a legitimate sport if we can’t even manage this?” Good question.

But, hey, why talk about last week, when we can talk about today? The IRF’s biggest event - their World Championships - just happened and you’d think their website would be shouting the names of the new champions. And you would be wrong.

The IRF website states who will be in the finals, although only surnames are used and it’s not clear who is in which final. If anyone is thinking "well, we know which of those players is playing which event," you are part of the problem here, because the website needs to speak to everyone who comes by, and perhaps especially people who aren't so familiar with the game, because you want to bring them into the game. Make it clear! Moreover, according to the website the finals are apparently happening on “Friday,” when they actually happened on Saturday. The little graphic listing the matches looks good, but it's failing to communicate all the relevant information.

A great aspect of the internet is that information can be communicated quickly and efficiently. IRF communications too often fail on both counts. Case two: consider that if you were looking for information on the World Championships two weeks ago - that is, prior to it happening - and you went to the IRF site to find out who was playing for each country, let alone the draws, you would not be able to find that information. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been obvious that the most important IRF event was going to be happening the following week from their website. That’s atrocious.

Case three: apparently there was a team competition at Worlds, although it’s just a by-product of the individual events with countries getting points for how well their players do in each event. But can you see the results of the team competition on the IRF website today, two days after the event wrapped up? No, you cannot.

The failure to communicate is also frustrating, because it’s not that difficult to accomplish. But it requires planning, and the people to do it, although the people wouldn’t have to be on site. Someone would need to get the results to the person promptly though, perhaps by text message, and then that individual could update the website with the results. Also, writing promotional releases for events isn’t too difficult, if there’s enough lead time so adequate planning can be done to accomplish the task.

The IRF seems to be failing to recognize the importance of communicating its results, and it needs to make better plans for how to communicate results in the future.

Follow the bouncing ball….

1 comment:

otis29 said...

Enjoyed the recap (all the recaps, BTW). And the IRF's communication issues are shared almost across the spectrum by all of the "professional" organizations. This is stuff that doesn't require a ton of labor to get done either. Just getting quickly updated information out on their website and social media platforms is such low hanging fruit these days.

It just drives me a little bit nuts because the sport needs to generate enthusiasm. If you're making me (a hardcore racquetball enthusiast) work this hard to find your product, the more casual fans will either give up quickly, or just won't know about the events.