19 December 2018

Selections and the political economy of disappointment

This is a true story. Names of players and the name of the sport have been left out for obvious reasons. It happens all the time. Players, coaches, parents, teachers and other officials know about it. Some as victims, some as perpetrators of injustice and others as helpless or indifferent bystanders. 

So, here’s the story. It’s about a girl. She’s not from a wealthy family. Her father, a three wheel driver earns just about enough to feed his family. Sports gear is a luxury he cannot afford. Nevertheless he somehow gets his daughter the bare minimum so she can compete. 

The girl excels in her chosen sport. She’s among the top youth players in the country. She’s regularly included in the relevant national pools and usually makes the cut right up to the final selection. Let’s say the original pool is 60-75 and is pruned to 25, she was in that 25 for three years running. 

Now the girl is not from a glamour school. Nevertheless a few years ago, a girl from her school captained the national youth team. The following year, for reasons best known to the relevant authorities she was dropped from the team. That can happen, theoretically. Form can drops and others can surpass in terms of relevant skills. Theoretically, also, there can be hanky-panky. 

The girl we are talking about, as mentioned, was not selected to the team. Now, typically, those not selected have reasons to complain. Some complaints are legitimate and some are not. The job of selectors is not easy. This too we must acknowledge. There are the deserving and the undeserving. Where assessment has a significant subjective element, a lot can happen. And if subjectivity is a factor then there’s a door open for influence. Through that door a lot can pass. We need not elaborate.   

I know the girl’s side of the story. She feels she’s been shabbily treated. Her father believes that children from more affluent families are favored. According to him, whenever there are foreign tours, such children’s parents don’t trouble the authorities with respect to costs. As for the girl, she simply believes that players of inferior quality have been selected. 

The father wanted to take the matter up with the authorities on behalf of his child. This he told me. I merely advised him to keep calm, be logical and respectful. In other words, I told him it is best to shelve emotions. 

I called him today to find out what happened. He told me a story. To be precise, he related to me what his daughter had told him. In Sinhala. This is a translation.

‘It’s ok thaththa. Let’s just drop it. Those girls who have been selected must be happy. If, due to our intervention, somehow they cannot represent the country, they would be very sad. Let’s not do anything that could cause them unhappiness. Let us, as poor people, suffer all this in silence.’

That’s the story. It’s not an uncommon story. Schools, sports authorities at the junior and senior levels, are not squeaky clean when it comes to selections. Some get agitated. Some protest. Some grin and bear. Some are disgusted and quit the sport altogether. Mediocrity wins the day. The national flag gets tarnished.  

In general, systems function best when the rules are comprehensive and clear. There is less room for complaint when selection criteria are clear and are known by all parties.  Of course, there are factors which cannot be obtained through numbers. Coaches and selectors must have some leeway, that’s understood. That’s why there are often several selectors and not just one. I don’t know the other side of the story, if there’s one. 

All I know is that a young girl is bitterly disappointed.

‘Sir, she was crying when she told me that,’ the father said in a breaking voice over the phone. 

Sometimes, things happen, and we just don’t know what to say.

‘She’s a precious child.’ 

That’s all I could say.  I wish I could have said and done something more, but I cannot. I wish, more than all this, that things are arranged in such a way that those who are not selected may feel disappointment (as is natural) but there would be no rancor, and most of all, that there won’t be the kind of painful resignation my friend’s daughter has to live with.  

She’ll learn a lot from all this. What she does next, I do not know. All I know is that some lessons need not be learnt in this way.


malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com