jasonbwatson

August 10, 2016

Let’s Be Fair (Part 2)

Just over four years ago, in a post entitled Let’s Be Fair, I opined about the absurdity of the rules in Olympic gymnastics that allow only two gymnasts per country to advance to the All Around finals’ group of twenty-four, regardless of whether or not a country has more than two competitors score high enough to qualify. The prompt at that time was the exclusion of U.S. gymnast Jordyn Weiber, who finished fourth out of sixty gymnasts but did not advance because two of the three who scored higher than she did were her own U.S. teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. That post is one of my most popular ever written, partially I suspect because of the popularity of the Olympics and the number of people searching for stories about it at the time, but partially as well because of the recognized ridiculousness of the rule.

Here we are four years later and here we are with yet another prime example of the need for a rule change. Interestingly, it again involves Raisman and Douglas, but this time Douglas is the one on the outside looking in as Raisman and phenom Simone Biles took the two U.S. spots for the All Around finals. Douglas finished third. Yep—that means no one else in the entire field scored higher than she did in the qualifying round except for her own two teammates, but twenty-two other gymnasts will advance to the finals instead of Douglas because she happens to compete for the United States. And, just as was the case with Weiber, Douglas eclipsed a total score of more than 60, yet none of the gymnasts who will qualify instead of her did so. Douglas had a 60.131; the fourth place finisher was Rebeca Andrade of Brazil with a 58.732. To anyone unfamiliar with the nuances of gymnastics that may not seem like much, but the point difference of 1.399 is, well, huge. In fact, the gymnast who placed fourth—Andrade—and who finished eighth—Eythora Thorsdottir of the Netherlands—were separated by only 1.166 points, meaning there were five gymnasts squeezed within a point differential smaller than that by which Douglas beat her next closest competitor.

As was the case four years ago, the United States is not the only nation to have gymnasts shorted by this arcane attempt at fairness. Japan had the ninth, twelfth and sixteenth place finishers, meaning Aiko Sugihara (sixteenth) did not advance; Russian gymnasts had the fifth, sixth and twenty-second place scores, meaning Angelina Melnikova (22nd) did not advance; Brazil had the fourth, nineteenth and twenty-third place finishers, leaving out Jade Barbosa (23rd).

Writing on SB Nation, Rodger Sherman accurately sums up the ramifications of this rule, writing “The two-per-country rule will give a country besides the United States an opportunity to win a medal, which is important for the sport’s international popularity. But it comes at the cost of having an Olympic event which doesn’t actually reward the best three competitors.” He goes on to explain that there are similar rules in other sports, but his comparison is not, in fact, accurate. Here is what he says:

There are similar rules in almost every sport at the Olympics. For example, Brazil has the top three women’s beach volleyball teams in the world and swept the podium at last year’s World Championships. But they were allowed to enter only two teams in Rio. Similarly, China has the top four men’s table tennis players in the world and the top three women’s table tennis players in the world, but were only allowed to enter two players in each event.

As I stated, though, that is not actually the same thing. To restrict the number of teams, or even individuals, a country can enter in the Olympics is not unreasonable. After all, there has to be a limitation established somewhere or else the Olympics could easily become an unruly event with even more competitors than the ten thousand plus already participating, resulting in an overall event lasting longer than the current two weeks. But the gymnastics rule restricts the ability of those who have qualified for the Olympics from actually having a chance to win a medal even if they have one of the best scores in the qualifying rounds. The result is a cheapening of the competition. While the rule is intended to give more people a chance—read more countries a chance, primarily out of a desire to expand the popularity of gymnastics in countries where it gets little if any notice—the real impact of the rule is to increase the likelihood of the very best gymnasts winning the medals. Think about it. When professional sports leagues expand, there is a resulting diminishing of the talent in the professional ranks, at least temporarily. If Major League Baseball were to add two teams to the MLB next year that would mean fifty players who would not otherwise have been playing in the majors then would be. Does that give more people a chance to play? Of course. Does it potentially increase the popularity of the sport—at least among the cities that get the expansion teams and the families, communities (possibly even nations) of the players who now get to play? Probably so. It also, though, makes the best players and the best teams likely to be separated even more from the pack because the overall pool has been (pun intended) watered down.

In October 2013 Dwight Normile, writing for International Gymnast Magazine, addressed this problem like this:

The individual all-around used to be the centerpiece of a major championship. Eliminating potential gold medalists, such as [Phillip] Boy and [Jordyn] Wieber, tarnishes that title. Giving Wieber’s spot to the 25th-ranked gymnast doesn’t make much sense, unless that person has a legitimate shot at winning. So the question is, Should the worlds and Olympics be real championships, or are they merely participation sports? (Think kids’ T-ball, where everyone gets a trophy.)

This is the very point I made in Let’s Be Fair. Eventually, the competition will become meaningless because the desire will be to see everyone get recognized somehow—with the result being that all recognition is hollow. The result of that would be that interest in the sport would wane, because no one really wants to put time and effort into competing for something that does not really matter. The very best athletes are not going to pour their time, effort, money, blood, sweat and tears into a sport where their possibility of a meaningful prize is restricted by an arbitrary rule designed to give lesser athletes a chance in the big show whether or not it was deserved.

It has proven to be far more difficult than I could have imagined to find an official list of the twenty-four qualifiers for the individual All Around finals, but based on the results I found listed on rio2016.com for the qualifying round, there are four individuals who will compete in the All Around that would not have had the opportunity to do so if it were not for the two-per-country rule. They are Louise Vanhille of France, Carlotta Ferlito of Italy, Sophie Scheder of Germany and Vanessa Ferrari of Italy. Ferrari is the only one of them that scored higher than Douglas in any of the four areas of competition—vault, uneven bard, balance beam and floor exercise—besting Douglas by a half-point on floor exercise. Ferlitto is the only one of the four not to have at least two scores below 14.0, and she did that narrowly, earning a 14.033 in both bars and floor exercise. Scheder is the only one of the four with any score above 15, earning a 15.433 in bars. Douglas has two scores above 15 and her lowest was a 14.366. Scheder and Ferrari both scores in the 12’s, with Ferrari earning as 12.000 in beam. Douglass beat Vanhille, who had the highest overall score of the four with a 55.765, by 4.366 points.

It is worth noting, by the way, that success does not automatically breed interest. The Romanians have won a team medal in every Olympics since 1976 but this year did not even have a team qualify for the Olympics. Only Catalina Ponor, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, qualified. Now that is not because the Romanians had no one competing, but the fact that the best they were able to put forward was not even good enough to qualify for the competition could reasonably be construed as an indicator that Romania’s best athletes are not necessarily entering gymnastics. Cate Carrejo, writing on Bustle, says “Ponor is one of the last of a dying breed of Romanian gymnasts.” She cites “allegedly lying about age, doping, and a stripped medal” during the 2000s as reasons for the dying reputation of Romanian gymnastics, but she also discusses the country’s shallow bench in the sport. Ponor emerged from retirement specifically to try to help the team qualify, but that obviously did not happen. A Reuters confirmed Carrejo’s comments about the “shallow bench,” saying “a rapidly shrinking talent pool meant that when they were hit by another round of injuries, a lack of top caliber substitutes meant they again failed to make the Olympic cut.”

Back to the issue at hand, though, Gabby Douglas was, as one would expect from her, very professional in her handling of her exclusion from the finals. She said the rule was “fine” and said that she had enjoyed an “amazing ride” as the Olympic All Around champion for four years. Raisman, though—even before Douglas was excluded this year—commented on the 2012 situation excluding Weiber as “just not fair,” “stupid” and “the dumbest thing ever.” And while Raisman has found herself on the qualifying end of the equation in the last two Olympics, she suffered from the two-per-country rule in world competition and also found herself losing out on a bronze medal in 2012 because of the tie-breaker rule in gymnastics (rather than awarding the medal to both athletes). So she knows that of which she speaks. It cannot be easy for her to know that she has stood between a teammate and her chance at an All Around medal in two consecutive Olympic games, as both Weiber and Douglas would have qualified if not for Raisman besting them.

I am not a big fan of Wikipedia, and I make it clear to my students that it is not an acceptable source for research papers or any scholarly writing, but since this is neither I will utilize the site for this point. Wikipedia’s entry for the term “level playing field” says, “In commerce, a level playing field is a concept about fairness, not that each player has an equal chance to succeed, but that they all play by the same set of rules.” That makes perfect sense. No one would suggest that gymnasts—or any other athletes—should be allowed to compete under different rules or with different equipment. In fact, that is exactly why anti-doping rules are in place, to prevent any unfair advantage. But the two-per-country rule is not an example of fairness. Instead, it is patently unfair.

Equal opportunity is another buzz word that is often used in situations when discussions like this are being had, so let’s look at things from that perspective. Borrowing again from Wikipedia, equal opportunity “is a stipulation that all people should be treated similarly, unhampered by artificial barriers or prejudices or preferences, except when particular distinctions can be explicitly justified.” The two-per-country rule is, in fact, an artificial barrier that results in preferences and distinctions that absolutely cannot be explicitly justified. The desire to include more countries in the finals is not a justifiable reason for excluding the third best athlete in the world from having a chance while simultaneously allowing the twenty-eighth just because she competes under a different flag.

This is precisely why—to throw another aside into the mix—affirmative action is not equal opportunity but reverse discrimination. The web site legaldictionary.net defines reverse discrimination this way: “The unfair treatment of members of majority groups, often resulting from preferential policies enacted by the legislature, intended to remedy prior discrimination against members of minority groups.” In this instance (Olympic gymnastics) the U.S. athletes are the majority population and preferential policies instituted by the governing body of international gymnastics competition in an effort to broaden the base of the sport’s popularity are discriminating against Gabby Douglas (and Aiko Sugihara, Angelina Melnikova and Jade Barbosa).

Combined with my previous post on this subject, I have probably now said more than enough about the rules for Olympic gymnastics. In the grand scheme of life—and certainly of eternity—Olympic medals do not matter. But the principle espoused by those who created these rules is one that does matter for life and has very real implications. When some ruling group somewhere—no matter who they are or what position they hold—has the ability and power to, by fiat, state that someone who would, in a truly level playing field, have qualified, has in fact not qualified just because it does not fit their idea of the preferable or ideal scenario, we should all be scared. If that principle starts to go beyond Olympic sports to decisions about employment, health care and, in fact, life, then the consequences start to get exponentially more serious—and personal.

What too few people realize is that that is actually already happening.

July 28, 2014

Fair to All

In this post I would like to address some of the ways in which the “rights” being sought through the transgender movement both interfere with the rights of other individuals and violate long-standing rules and policies in various organizations.

Perhaps the first place to look should be at the impact the transgender movement is having, and will continue to have, in schools. The South Dakota High School Activities Association’s transgender policy references in an earlier post includes this statement at the end of the introductory paragraph: “This policy creates a framework in which this participation may occur in a safe and healthy manner that is fair to all competitors.” Really? Fair to all competitors? How is it fair to the females in high school sports for a male who identifies as a female to be allowed to play on a girls sports team? (Or vice versa).

There are numerous ways in which such participation is inherently unfair to everyone involved. It is unfair to the transgender individual because it allows him or her to assume an identity other than that which he or she actually possesses. I could elaborate on that one, but transgender individuals and activists would deny that one so there is not much point in belaboring it; after all, the assumption of that identity is exactly what they are trying to accomplish.

The participation of the transgender individual is unfair to the other competitors. Regardless of how much we may want to deny it or pretend it does not matter, males and females are not physically identical. Males tend to be taller and stronger than females. Therefore, there are inherent problems in allowing males to compete as females or females to compete as males in sports where physical fitness is relevant (and, frankly, there are very few high school sports where it is not). The matter of transgender athletes competing has been an issue in arenas far beyond high school sports and will no doubt continue to be an issue.

The Olympics has long dealt with the issue of athletes trying to complete in events other than those for which they would qualify according to their gender. The IOC has long used gender testing in order to prevent such individuals from competing in the Olympics. In 2004, however, the IOC did adopt “the Stockholm Consensus” which would allow transgender athletes to compete according to their gender identity so long as three conditions were met: the individual must have had gender reassignment surgery, must have obtained legal recognition of their newly assumed gender, and must have had at least two years of hormone treatments/therapy. While even allowing these individuals to compete warrants legitimate debate, at least these guidelines establish very specific parameters that both prevent someone from competing based purely on the gender with which they identify and also require some efforts to diminish the advantages that are inherent based on gender differences. The SDHSAA policy allows students to participate based on their gender identity. It does require documentation of “consistent gender identification and expression” and does state that once a student is identified as transgender that student must compete in that gender category for the remainder of his or her high school years. That will, presumably, eliminate any possibility of someone claiming a certain gender identity for one sport and then switching to another identity for the next sport, trying to gain some kind of competitive advantage. Rest assured, however, that the ability of athletes to compete based solely on the gender identity they claim on any given day will be on the transgender agenda before long. After all, if the idea is that gender is fluid and based on how one feels and identifies rather than on how one was born it will not be possible to insist that one can really be a gender other than the one they were born but that once that decision is made it is permanent.

A few months ago CrossFit was in the news because its governing body told a transgender female athlete that she could not compete as a woman. Why? An article on HuffingtonPost described the following as “the most disturbing part” of the letter sent to individual in question:

We have simply ruled that based upon [Chloie] being born as a male, she will need to compete in the Men’s Division. … The fundamental, ineluctable fact is that a male competitor who has a sex reassignment procedure still has a genetic makeup that confers a physical and physiological advantage over women. … Our decision has nothing to do with “ignorance” or being bigots — it has to do with a very real understanding of the human genome, of fundamental biology, that you are either intentionally ignoring or missed in high school.

Was the CrossFit response rude? I suppose you could argue that it was. The main points of their explanation are entirely accurate, however; no matter how you slice it, a male who identifies as a female–even a male who has gender reassignment surgery–does and will always have a physical advantage. One could debate the physiological advantage but I think it is safe to assume that the fact that the woman on the court/track/field used to be a man will be in the mind of the other women involved in the competition.

There is plenty more that could be said on this matter but the issue goes well beyond athletics. I believe it should be sufficient for this particular aspect of the issue to say that it simply is not possible to both allow transgender individuals to compete according to their gender identity and to, as the SDHSAA policy asserts, be “fair to all competitors.” It certainly interferes with the right of a female to compete solely against other females in her sport of choice when men who decide to become females are also allowed to compete.

Another area in which the transgender movement is trampling the rights of others is the insistence that everyone else refer to transgender individuals by the gender pronouns aligned with their gender identity. The SDHSAA policy includes a statement that schools must “[u]se correct names/pronouns according to the student’s self–identification.” I see no recognition of the rights of an individual who is uncomfortable referring to a “he” as a “she” in that wording. Public schools in Vancouver, Canada have gone even further. Last month the school board approved a policy that will require teachers to use transgender pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. What are transgender pronouns? They are made-up words, no doubt created by some person or group of people within the transgender movement so that they can have their own pronouns and not have to use those that belong to males and females. The Vancouver policy instructs teachers to use “xe, xem and xyr” instead of “he, him and his.” Never mind the rights of teachers and others to refer to individuals as what they are rather than what they feel like, apparently the transgender movement is also entitled to create its own words now, too.

Perhaps most disconcerting is the movement for transgender individuals to be permitted to use restrooms based on their gender identity. California approved a bill last year that allows school children to select which bathroom they will use based on their gender identity. What about the rights of the boys not to have a girl who says she feels like a boy come into their bathroom, or the girls to have a boy who feels like a girl come into theirs? Again, the rights of the vast majority of individuals are being trampled on in order to accommodate the preferences of a very small few. The SDHSAA policy includes “locker room accessibility” as one of the things that schools must accommodate when there is a transgender athlete. What if there is no locker room available? Not many schools have extra locker rooms sitting around, meaning either the transgender athlete will have to be permitted to use the locker room of the gender he/she claims, will have to use the locker room on his/her own when the rest of the team is out of the room, or will have to be given a separate room somewhere to change, etc. Mark my words, if we continue down this path it will not be long before any newly-constructed public building will have to include gender-neutral restrooms. The transgender movement will insist that this is a civil rights issue, they will demand equality of facilities, and they will obtain a transgender version of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires handicapped accessibility in public buildings. No doubt most of them will be used rarely if ever, given that less than half of one percent of the population identifies as transgender, but at least they’ll be there should the need arise.

That is, of course, because we must be “fair to all.”

August 13, 2012

The Best (and Worst) of Times

I stole the title, of course, from Charles Dickens, but I think it fits the Olympic games quite well. I think I probably watched more Olympic events during the 30th Olympiad than I have in any previous Olympic games, and I believe that the games showcased both the best and the worst of the human race.

The best? Well, the games provided the platform for demonstrating some of the greatest athleticism of which humans are capable. The breaking of world records, of course, would be evidence of that even without my commentary, and I assume that anyone who watched the games or followed the medal count or read a news story about the Olympics is aware of the exceptional athletic ability of the Olympic athletes. Even those who finished last in their respective events typically perform at a much higher level than the rest of us could ever hope to obtain. So I will not dwell much on the athletic accomplishments.

Instead, I’d like to highlight other “bests.”

While she just won her third consecutive gold medal in women’s beach volleyball with her partner Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh Jennings makes it a point after every match to go around and shake hands or exchange high-fives with every official, line judge, ball boy or girl, and sand sweeper. Her recognition of the “little people” that help make every athletic competition successful is refreshing.

U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman paid tribute to her coach Mihai Brestyan by leaving the medal podium and putting her gold medal around his neck. Later she tweeted about how much he means to her and expressed her appreciation again. In a day and age when so many athletes bask in the glow of their accomplishments all by themselves, it was nice to see someone acknowledge that she did not win gold all by herself.

The flip side of that, of course, would be an example of the worst. As much as I respect Jamaican Usain Bolt and his incredible sprinting, his arrogance is off-putting to say the least. Anyone who repeatedly refers to himself as a legend and “the best” would do well to tone back the chest-thumping a bit. NBC commentator Bob Costas said it well when he commented that it would be difficult for anyone to think more highly of Bolt than he does of himself.

The track also provides another example of the best. South African Oscar Pistorius inspired the world by competing against “able-bodied athletes” in several sprinting events, despite having had both legs amputated below the knees at the age of eleven months due to being born without fibula. To see someone determine to overcome such a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and rise to the level of running, on Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetics, against the best runners in the world should serve as reminder to all of us that most of our limitations are self-imposed.

An example of the worst would be the badminton teams…yes, badminton…from China, South Korea and Indonesia that were charged with “not using their best efforts to win a match” (The Guardian) but instead losing games on purpose in an effort to get into a more advantageous bracket. It is unfortunate anytime an athlete seeks to skew competition in his or her favor through any kind of cheating, but there is simply no excuse for athletes on the world stage losing matches on purpose in order to try to create an easier path to a medal.

Also on the worst list would be the revelation that Chinese diver Wu Minxia’s parents kept from her the news of her grandparents’ death and her mother’s breast cancer for over a year, not telling her until after she won the gold medal in the 3-meter springboard diving competition. Why? According to Yahoo! Sports, “…so as not to interfere with her diving career.” According to her father, “It was essential to tell this white lie.” Nonsense. No athletic pursuit should ever take precedence over familial bonds. This story serves to highlight the extreme, and, I dare say, ridiculous, pressure that is placed on Chinese athletes, who are often removed from home at a young age and placed in government-run training facilities.

I could go on… Jordan Wieber demonstrated the best when she pulled herself together after not making the final competition for the gymnastics individual all-around (despite performing better than 56 of the 60 contestants) to politely and graciously answer inane questions from NBC’s on-the-floor reporter, to congratulate and encourage her teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, and to perform well during the team all-around competition. David Boudia demonstrated the best when he overcame the lackluster performance of the platform diving prelims–squeaking into the semifinals in 16th place (when only 16 advance) to win the gold medal in the finals. Grenada’s Kirani James demonstrated the best when he exchanged bib numbers with Oscar Pistorius after the 400 meter semifinal, showing his respect and appreciation for Pistorius and his accomplishments. Gabby Douglas demonstrated the best when she directed the glory to God after her gold medal winning performance, and refused to make too big a deal about it when she did not score so well in individual apparatus competition a few days later. Michael Phelps demonstrated the best by becoming the most highly decorated Olympian ever…and insisting that he will indeed retire now that the Olympics are over. Like I said, I could go on…

Athletic events are incredible and wonderful opportunities for individuals and teams to demonstrate the amazing things that humans can do with their God-given talents. And while I enjoy competition as much as anyone (and perhaps more than most) let’s not forget that sporting events are, when it comes right down to it, games. That’s why the event that just concluded in London is accurately referred to as the Olympic games. They’re fun, they’re impressive, and there is nothing wrong with taking them seriously. Each athlete should try his or her best. But personal worth does not hinge on Olympic medals. Success must not be dependent on one brief moment of an individual’s life. People matter because of who they are–created in the image of God–not because of what they do.

July 30, 2012

Let’s Be Fair

Like millions of others, I have been watching a lot of Olympic events since Friday’s opening ceremony. And last night, like many others, I empathized with US gymnast Jordyn Wieber as she realized that she will not be going to the All Around competition because of a bizarre rule which restricts qualifiers for the finals to not more than two per country.

Wieber is the reigning world champion, and was a favorite for medal contention at these Olympic games. Yet, due to the strength of the US women’s gymnastics team, she was edged out by teammates Alexandra Raisman and Gabby Douglas for one of the two finalist positions from the US.

(Completely as an aside, I watched all of the floor routines by the US gymnasts last night, and, though certainly not a qualified or trained observer of gymnastics competition, I fail to see how, in a sport where tenths and hundredths of points really matter, Raisman’s floor exercises earned a score of .659 points higher than Weiber’s… But like I said, that’s not the point).

In reality, what the IOC rule does is attempt to create a level of “fairness” that pure competition may not–and last night, did not–create on its own. Apparently the powers that be feel that it is important to ensure that as many countries as possible are represented in the finals. The relevant portion of the rule reads, “The best 24 individual gymnasts (maximum two from each country) go through to the Individual All-Around final, where gymnasts compete on all apparatus.” Shortly thereafter, it continues, “Each apparatus is judged for difficulty and execution, with the highest scoring athlete the winner.”

The problem is–or should be–clearly evident in the very wording of this rule. First, it contradicts itself by saying that the “best 24 individual gymnasts” will go on to the AA finals, but then clarifies that by restricting it to not more than two per country. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that the best 24 will go on, as last night’s competition clearly revealed. The rule then contradicts itself again by saying that the highest scoring athlete is the winner, because Jordyn Wieber scored higher than all but three other athletes in the qualifying round, but I am quite certain she does not feel like she won…because she did not. Though her scores qualified her for the AA finals, the bizarre attempt at leveling the playing field will deny her that opportunity.

According to the Olympics web site (london2012.com) there were 60 competitors in the All Around Individual qualifying round. Jordyn Wieber scored higher than 56 of them. Not only that, she was one of only four gymnasts to achieve a total score higher than 60. Yet, because two of the other three that scored above 60 are Wieber’s teammates from USA, Wieber will not advance to the finals.

I need to point out, as well, that Wieber is not the only gymnast who will suffer from this two-per-county limit. The combination of that facts that she is from the USA, is the reigning world champion, and scored so high will mean that she gets the majority of the attention, but Russia’s Anastasia Grishina (12th overall), Great Britain’s Jennifer Pinches (21st overall) and China’s Jinnan Yao (22nd overall) also scored in the top 24 but will not make the finals because they were the third-highest finishers from their respective countries. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Wieber is not even one of the four reserves for final competition because of the two-per-country rule.

Now, I certainly have no grudge or ill-will toward France’s Aurelie Malaussena, Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Japan’s Rie Tanaka, or Australia’s Ashleigh Brennan, but these gymnasts–at least in last night’s competition–were not among “the best 24 individual gymnasts.” Yet they will be in the AA finals.

I think I have sufficiently set the stage and established that I think this particular IOC rule is absurd. However, this entire scenario serves only to highlight the impact of any attempts to create artificial “fairness.” Every attempt to force fairness at the expense of the outcomes of real competition results in some level of unfairness, whether in athletics, academics or economics.

There are plenty of people who argue for forced fairness in economics, through higher levels of taxation on higher earners in order to redistribute the wealth “more fairly.” There are those who argue that there should be only a certain percentage of students in any class who receive A’s, a certain percentage who receive B’s, the highest percentage who receive C’s, and so on. Such “forced fairness” is anything but. Competition–unfettered, uninterrupted, unadjusted, and completely clean and legal–will, by itself, produce the fairest results every time. No assistance or interference is needed. The problem is, those who aren’t among the “winners” start to cry about it not being fair, and then someone gets the brilliant idea to try to make it fair artificially.

I am a baseball fan, and an Orioles fan specifically. Thus, I am just about required to dislike the Yankees and Red Sox. However, I would never think of suggesting that the Yankees and Red Sox have won the division, the pennant, and/or the World Series enough recently and the Orioles deserve their turn to win. That would be ridiculous! The Orioles only deserve to win if and when they can field the best team and thereby earn the title(s). No true competitor would want a title that came to them just because it was their turn. Such victory would seem hollow…fake. And that’s because that is exactly what it would be.

The fact is, though, the limitation of qualifiers to only two per country is but the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope of forced “fairness.” See, if–to be fair–we have to make sure that no country has more than two competitors in the final 24, it is only a matter of time before someone decides that still is not fair. What if, even with that restriction, there are still countries that do not make it into the finals year after year? After all, if my quick perusal of the competitor’s national flags is correct, Greece, Brazil, Croatia, Chile, Israel and others will not have a competitor in the AA finals. How many years can that be allowed to happen before we need to restrict the finals to one competitor per country so that more countries get to be included? But wait, that might not be far enough either, eventually. After all, there are some countries that have never won an Olympic medal in any event, ever. Surely we cannot allow such inequality. Perhaps there should be a rule created that will allow for medals to be more evenly distributed.

I hope you can see where I am going. Interference of any kind with competition serves only to destroy competition. Attempts at creating equality of opportunity (i.e., no more than two finalists per country) eventually leads to attempts to create equality of results. And while Jordyn Wieber and the Olympic gymnastics competition has served as a prime example of the problem, it is a problem that is much more prevalent, much more far-reaching, and, indeed, much more serious than Olympic competition. So, let’s be fair, and stop meddling with the outcomes.

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