Thursday, October 17, 2013

About the Controversy...

Please note what I am about to write is not 'new' to me, however earlier this year a general letter was sent out advising Agility handlers in South Africa that if we were not 'positive' about the upcoming South African AWC, there would be consequences.

First of all I would like to say from the word go, that even though I am a South African and I am on the team and I live in the city where it was hosted and I am involved in many aspects of Agility... I can still not answer any questions you might have, as the answers were never shared with me.  However I would like to share some facts with the rest of the world.

1.  Many South Africans were actually not in full support of this event being held in our country (yes many were for it too).  The concerns included:
1. 1 Shipping of dogs - Yes, we fly our dogs to Europe annually.  However it is a much smaller amount of dogs.  We know how South Africa 'works' (yes, Africa certainly has its own way of doing things).  I was as surprised as the next person when I saw pictures posted on Facebook of how dogs were received in Johannesburg, seeing as our dogs have never been received like this for the 10 years I have been involved in our world teams. Despite promises of arrangements for 'non-listed' to be able to attend (The Department of Agriculture List that determines quarantine), I would have bet a rather large amount of money 5 years ago already that our government would never allow for this (once again this is an African thing...). There are only 3 options for direct flights into Johannesburg from mainland Europe (Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris), these flights are generally limited to 5 dogs per flight, however we have in the past been able to make special arrangements to accommodate more dogs per flight.

1.2 Money, money, money -  This was my main concern.  First of all, our sport (and this is world wide) does NOT have the money to spend 3000 - 5000 euro PER dog and handler to send them to an AWC.  Most teams don't even have decent sponsorship for a European AWC, never mind flying to the other side of the world.  In fact our own South African team has barely ever had semi-decent sponsorship.  Shouldn't the powers that be have tried to clean our own house first?  Even if the whole world WANTED this championship to be in our country, the money would never be there for a representative event. Not being able to try out myself for many years because I could not afford the trip (and I am one of MAYBE 20 handlers in South Africa that aspire to go), I could sympathise with the 300 odd handlers that would not be able to afford the trip to South Africa. My monetary concern included the lack of a sponsor.  Having been involved for many years, I knew that we suffered a serious lack of sponsors.

1.3  Lack of experience - For those that have been attending the AWC for many years, have you ever seen a decent sized contingent of South African supporters?  I think the most we have had at one time is 10?  All the little things that we take for granted at the AWC, is foreign to 99% of South Africa's Agility community.  Start line protocol at AWC is something that the volunteers that worked at the event have NEVER EVEN HEARD of or seen. Replacing bars, queues (here in SA we don't queue to compete), microchip scanning, vet checks, measuring of dogs (we don't even have proper rules regarding this matter), watching up-contact judges, electronic scoring systems... these are things that almost NONE of the volunteers would be familiar with.  Never mind the small traditions, like the 'elimination song', dancing, slow claps.  99% of Agility South Africa is not even willing to travel to Europe to experience this, but now we have to bring it all the way to them?  I can count our FCI judges on one hand... and of these FCI judges only one has judged ONE event in Europe.  Unlike me, hardly any of these judges even follow international trend.  How can we expect a judge that has never judged more than 60 Grade 3 dogs at a time (outdoors, without an up-contact judge) to deal with the pressures of such a major event.

1.4  South Africa's 'Non-Pet-Friendliness' - Unfortunately the majority of South Africa is NOT pet friendly to the same extent as Europe and North America (I can only testify to those continents I have visited).  There is very limited (in my neighbourhood for example there is none) public transport available and there is absolutely no pets allowed at all on the public transport that IS available.  Pet-friendly accommodation is also not that readily available. Animals are not allowed in any shopping centre, shop, restaurant or any other public area that I know of (well there is a dedicated dog park where the dogs are allowed in the restaurant, but not much else).

These concerns were voiced to the organising committee on several occasions... I know this is true, because I was the person voicing them.

Now the event has come and gone.  I was there.  I've got the t-shirt (a few actually).  Every year people do have problems or issues or concerns with random matters regarding the AWC or things that were said or done, this year will be no different.  I have tried to think of a way to categorise my thoughts, but I find it very  difficult, as some thoughts are bittersweet and don't actually belong with the positive or the negative.  I will also try to share some facts that you might not know.  I will not comment on any judging or course design, as I have many personal feelings, but that is Agility ladies and gentleman, that is part of the game we play and at the end of the day it is our choice to run a course or not.

-  Of course comments have been flying through cyberspace for nearly 2 years within the Agility community regarding this event.  Some just being ridiculous and others with valid concerns.  It does feel to me (like it does to many others), that the FCI actively ignored this commentary.  I think the FCI could have gone a long way to resolve the issue(s) instead of just keeping quiet and make quiet statements of 'this will happen'.  This of course was my experience, perhaps I don't visit the right websites.

- I have to admit that I DO resent those that immediately judged every handler on this earth that is willing to fly their dogs in the cargo hold.  This implies that, not only is our entire South African Agility Team, cruel, but so is every person that has ever imported a dog to South Africa, or every non-European country that attends the AWC or EO (USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, China, Mexico etc).  I assure you my dogs's health and safety are my first concern.  I categorically do not think there is anything wrong with shipping dogs in the cargo hold provided you have made the correct arrangements and you know what you are doing.  Especially our dogs, that are subject to loud, noisy and strange environments on a regular basis.  Agility handlers crate their dogs in these environment on a regular basis.  I also have to leave my dogs in crates at home on their own on a regular basis to work.  My dogs love their crates and I have never had a dog that stressed excessively flying.  Those dogs of mine that ARE nervous, will never ever fly.If you choose not to fly your dogs, I respect that choice completely, however I also don't appreciate you judging me for my choices.

- What also annoys me to no end, are the South African handlers, spectators and supporters that had their mouths full about countries not attending.  Firstly because it is each handler's choice and each spectators choice and you cannot judge people for this.  But mostly because the people moaning the most had never even bothered or could not afford to attend a European AWC themselves, yet they somehow expect the reverse?

- In September last year an 'Events Manager' was appointed by the organisers to run the event.  This company had no connection to Agility in the past and none of its employees were known to the Agility community.  The notice read:


Dear Karene

Please will you place the following message on the KUSA website.



The Kennel Union has pleasure in confirming that it has appointed FULL
STRIDE MEDIA as our Events Manager for the above which will be held in
Johannesburg at the Dome during October, 9th-13th 2013.  FULL STRIDE MEDIA
will be responsible for arranging the event in conjunction with our Agility
people and they have assumed full responsibility for the financial liability

This is a tremendous step forward for South Africa and we feel sure that all
members of the Kennel Union will want to support it in one way or another.

Full details will be available from time to time in the coming weeks.


Greg Eva


P O Box 2659

-  I did experience a bit of a 'black hole' where information was concerned and would have appreciated more regular updates.  This was so much more important in light of the controversy surrounding this event.  Even if it was just a message of reassurance on a bi-weekly basis, that things were still happening.  The silence invited the start of rumours.

- The 'Meet and Greet' - While it didn't interrupt the proceedings much, I still feel that a generator should have been at hand.  Power failures are not a 'new thing' to us South Africans, more of a given.

-  The surface - Yes, it wasn't ideal, I ran on it too.  However let me remind handlers that the surface is one of the most controversial issues at the AWC and it has been 'wrong' many times in the past in many countries.  The lack of funds to test a surface for extensive periods prior to the event is NOT own to South Africa.  My personal opinion on this surface is that there was nothing wrong with the actual 'top layer' surface if I can call it that, but rather a lack of decent soft under-surface.  By the end of the weekend, as they always do, most dogs however had already adapted to it.  The complaints regarding surface was just as bad after the 2011 Lievin AWC.

-  Incorrect results announced - This annoyed me to no end and in actual fact cause massive confusion for the celebration of a few rounds.  The timing equipment and results were out-contracted to an Austrian company that does this on a regular basis.  We had two gentlemen fly in to take care of this matter for the weekend.  I don't know where the communication error was, but several times the SCT was either left out or incorrectly captured, which led to results being miscalculated for the KUSA cup and also incorrect time faults being announced in the AWC.  In one of the events four teams were mulling around in the marshalling area convinced the placings had been announced incorrectly.  This is a matter where more careful attention should have been paid.

-  Bibs - The bibs were also out-contracted to a company that very obviously has never had anything to do with Agility.  They ended up being a dress-size to too big for me (yes, it was literally longer than the skirt I ran in).  They had to make a special exception where handlers could run without bibs.  Was a sample never checked before confirming the order?  Even if the events company took charge of these arrangements, a member of the organising committee should have followed up.

-  Lack of music - HUGE gap in communication.  For those that were not there, we spent the first two days in dead silence.  Somewhere along the way, someone forgot to apply for a 'public music license', seeing as the venue themselves do not have one.  This is really something that should have been checked, double checked, triple checked and then maybe checked once more.

-  False starts - There were two of these (and two almosts) that I saw over the weekend.  The person that was responsible for marshalling the start had never attended an AWC and never seen a video.  There were several volunteers that had actually been to the event and had fulfilled a similar duty before.  I would have perhaps considered rather using them.

-  The general lack of public updates - It was only discovered close to the event that they would not be able to publish live results.  I have no idea what the reason for this was.  This is something that should have been on a 'to do' list months ago.  It should have been followed up by an Agility person, as we are the ones that know how important it is for our small community to follow the event 'live'.  The fact that the German Facebook page was more regularly updated than the official page confirms that this was a rather big oversight.

-  Livestream - This point is particularly close to my heart, especially seeing as the organisers insisted from the beginning to take responsibility for this themselves (initially this was because they believed this would be a huge fundraising scheme).  At an open meeting held more than a year ago, I personally raised several concerns regarding livestream.  These included very slow South African data speeds (at that point the fastest lines available was 4mb/s... and this on paper, no speed test that I ever ran at that stage could reach those speeds), unreliability of connections (due to the layout of Johannesburg, where everything is very far spread out, wireless connections rely on the infrastructure of a widely spread network of towers, which regularly buckle under the strain of high usage.  Fixed lines are regularly subject to cable theft).  Satellite would have been way too expensive for any Agility event to make use of.  And while I understand that this task was out-contracted to a company that claimed they knew what they were doing, it should have still been followed up by the organisers.  It is THEIR name that is tied to it, it was THEIR choice to have it linked to the actual FCI2013 Agility pages.  Blame was being thrown around like nobody's business, however since I pointed these concerns more than a year ago, I actually don't have much sympathy.

-  While there were few dogs, I personally still feel that at least there was some competition and excitement in the individual event..  I appreciate the handlers that DID attend.  The atmosphere was quite good (mostly), very supportive.  I do hope that the South African supporters realise that while they saw some awesome rounds and good handling, this was not an AWC like they normally are.  I would love to see all these supporters travel with the team next year!

- Stickers for record cards - We do not have these.  They were never arranged.  Another one of the aspects that the organising committee blames on Full Stride media, but that I feel an actual Agility person should have followed up on.

- There were several other issues, I don't feel it is my place to share, but then I guess there always is.

My one hope is that the FCI realises that our sport is not ready for an off-continent AWC (as much as I loved not spending a fortune this year), whether it is North America, South America, Asia or Africa, I don't believe that our sport is financially ready for this specific event to be hosted on another continent.  I hope that the FCI delegates start listening to their handlers.  I hope that the handlers believe the FCI the next time they decide on something.

As always, the AWC has left me motivated and fired up to train.  More about my own experiences and runs in a next post.

1 comment:

  1. I cant even imagine having to put somehting this big together. Ive been in charge of local trials and its not fun. If it makes you feel any better, I havent seen any negative posting on anyone from the USA so far.