The problem with inflexible bureaucracies

Inflexible bureaucracies strike again.
This time at the expense of a pair of Canadian badminton players.

Inflexible bureaucracies strike again.

This time at the expense of a pair of Canadian badminton players.

Adrian Liu and Derrick Ng made news during the Pan Am Games, but not the way they had hoped.

The pair were favoured to win the gold medal in their sport at the Games, but were disqualified before they ever set foot on the court.

It wasn’t for bad behaviour or doping or anything nefarious.

It wasn’t even for anything they themselves had done.

Badminton Canada, their sport’s governing body, had mistakenly entered them in another tournament scheduled for the same time period as the Pan Am Games.

When players are signed up for two tournaments that are taking place at the same time they are automatically disqualified from both under a rule of the Badminton World Federation.

So the athletes were denied the opportunity to stand on the top of the podium in their home country.

But things have just snowballed from there, going from bad to worse. Now that one error could cost Liu and Ng their chance to compete at next year’s Olympic Games.

Not only did the pair lose out on earning the valuable qualifying points that they would most likely have come away from the Pan Am Games with, a major sponsor has pulled out because of it.

This leaves the duo $40,000 short — an amount that means they’re now crowd funding to try to scrape together enough money to attend their next 18 tournaments to garner the points they need for Olympic qualification. All for the want of a horse shoe nail, as the saying goes.

It seems crazy that an administrative error could cost these athletes a trip to the Olympics — no doubt a lifelong dream.

All sense of fairness rebels against this kind of outcome.

But here’s the real rub.

More and more of our systems seem to be trending in the direction of one-size-fits-all, iron fist, no appeal, zero tolerance.

It’s simplistic, and appeals to the age of the soundbite.

But our world and ourselves as human beings are complex and individual.

What zero tolerance means is zero tolerance for mistakes.

But we are flesh and blood and bone and emotion and mistakes come with the territory.

This attempt to makes things fair by treating everyone and everything and every situation the same denies reality and has the opposite effect from what was intended.

Exceptions are messy and human and sometimes they are the best possible outcome.

Exercising judgement can be scary and imperfect. But it’s better than the alternative.