SCA Acknowledges Mistakes and is Working to Improve

I’m not one to beat the proverbial “dead horse,” but sometimes coverage of a specific topic bears repeating, or follow up in this case. My previous blog (“New Deferment Policy Creates Disappointment and Uncertainty”), discussed the backlash surrounding the decision by World Coffee Events (WCE) to hold the 2018 World Barista Championships in Dubai, and the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) subsequent new Deferred Candidacy Policy.

The criticism arose after Dubai, UAE, a nation with well-known human rights violations and LGBTQIA abuses, was chosen to host the 2018 World Coffee Roasting Championship, World Cup Tasters Championship, and World Brewers Cup. The objective of the Deferred Candidacy Policy is to “protect competitors who may be prevented from participating in a world championship event due to due to nationality, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity/orientation, health, bereavement or force majeure.” Many within the specialty coffee community (including national champions and SCA members) felt that the new policy is essentially forcing competitors to out themselves to their national body in order to indicate why they feel unsafe travelling to a country with known human rights violations. (I admit that I questioned the venue decision and the policy in my previous blog.)

Consequently, community meetings began popping up in the US and UK to discuss the policy and location. The SCA Board of Directors issued an apology for the ambiguity surrounding the policy and announced that SCA board and executive team members would attend community meetings when invited, and held two webinars to further discuss the situation. One such webinar took place on 29 November and included the following members of the SCA: Ric Rhinehart, SCA executive director; Paul Stack, SCA president; Heather Perry, vice president; and Cindy Ludviksen, WCE managing director.

The panel noted that when the RFP for the 2018 championships was tendered, only two cities applied: Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. No objections to holding championships in Dubai were raised at the time. In fact, the former SCAA and SCAE held events in Dubai for years including training classes and Cezve/Ibrik championships, all of which took place without complaints, according to Paul Stack. (Furthermore, non-SCA events like Gulfoods, which takes place annually in Dubai and the Dubai Tea Trading Forum, which takes place every two years, both attract thousands of exhibitors and attendees, and the World Expo will also be held in Dubai in 2020 – the first to be held in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia – region so I am a bit perplexed as to why there are so many negative reactions with the WBC being held in Dubai.). However, the SCA did acknowledge their mistakes and missteps.

“We have been reasonably called out for not hearing voices and the concerns of all our community members,” said Ric Rhinehart, while admitting that the SCA “clearly missed an opportunity with the vetting process” when choosing a location for the championships.

The Deferred Candidacy Policy, when announced, and in its current form, is only conceptual, and therefore still being written, now with feedback from community meetings and the SCA webinars being considered. “We are looking at the policy from many angles to ensure that candidates have opportunities, not limitations,” said Rhinehart, noting that candidates’ privacy is equally important.

Panelists stated that they want to make sure that competitors know that when it comes to issues where a competition is being hosted in a place where a competitor might feel unsafe, the competitor may simply tell the SCA that they feel unsafe or unwelcome in that city – their word is being taken “at face value” – they do not have to give an actual reason. (However, this is different when it comes to visa issues, health, or bereavement.) “The policy is designed for champions to have their spots saved for them when they are prohibiting from attending a championship,” said Cindy Ludviksen.

Regarding site selection, previously, the criteria focused on logistics (transportation, accommodations, areas of attraction, receptiveness for the event, and benefit to the WCE’s global representation and outreach, etc) but did not include human rights parameters. The SCA is now assembling a committee to assess criteria for the site selection process and human rights policies will be included. “The new selection criteria will explore what laws exist in countries [submitting RFPs],” said Ludviksen.

The panel recognizes that everywhere the SCA/WCE holds events, some champion will be prohibited from competing for some reason but the SCA wants to help to reduce the challenges champions may face regarding barrier of entry. While the SCA says this has been the case for almost every competition, the issue around the host cities for 2018 helped propel the conversation to provide options for competitors and the multiple types of barriers that exist.

Moving the 2018 World Barista Championships out of Dubai is not an option as “contracts were entered into in good faith.” (Anyone or entity that has organized any type of event, be it a conference, convention, trade show, etc, understands the complications and ramifications of trying to pull out once the agreement has been signed.) Furthermore, the SCA wants to be cognizant of its mission to build coffee communities around the world and nurture communities where it is active — this includes cities like Dubai. “The SCA wants to be sensitive to our members in the UAE who did not choose to live in a place where these laws exist,” panelists noted. “It’s not about special treatment, it’s about not wanting to abandon them. We are a global community and the specialty coffee community in Dubai is part of it.”

So, while the WBC in Dubai will move ahead as planned, the SCA will provide basic guidelines such as “do’s and don’ts” and travel tips, etc, for visitors (competitors, SCA staff, volunteers) to ensure their safety. “We know we need to do better with site selection and that is why we are putting a new process in place that supports both our mission and values,” said Heather Perry.

Participating in the webinar, it is evident that the SCA is aware that they did not communicate their intentions clearly, nor were they cognizant of the concerns of their members – and they are actively working to amend the current situation and improve policies and processes moving forward, which goes beyond World Coffee Events.

“We have been terrible at communicating structure and format,” said Rhinehart. (Many members previously criticized the SCA for never clearly announcing the new entity, its organizational structure or locations of SCA staff members pursuant to the merger of the SCAA and SCAE in January 2017.) Given what has transpired, the SCA is taking this opportunity to improve their communication policies and methods of communication.

“This issue has helped us see where we need to improve in terms of internal communication but also how we communicate with our many groups of volunteers, Guilds, Chapters, National Bodies, etc,” said Vicente Partida, who joined the SCA earlier this year as director of communications.

The SCA is actively working to “right a wrong” and should be given the opportunity to do so, under the watchful eye of its members and the specialty coffee community, of course, who should criticize when necessary, but also offer constructive feedback to help the association improve.

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