World Poetry Slam Championship 2022
WPSO STATEMENT ABOUT THE 2022 CHAMPIONSHIP EDITION
After years of reunions, discussions and preparations, our first World Poetry Slam Championship finally took place in Brussels in the last week of September. It was just the first of many that we’re planning for the future; an incredible meeting of poets from 38 countries, which left us with some unforgettable moments and performances but also with a lot to learn.
As anyone online watching the streaming or present in the seats at Kinepolis could realize, mistakes were made by the organizing committee for the festival, resulting in an incorrect list of finalists shown on screen after the second semi-final.
So, first of all, we feel the need to send a profound apology to everyone out there: to the Slam family around the world who felt there was a lack of transparency in the management of votes, scores and qualifications; to the poets and organizers present in Brussels who felt they were treated unfairly and who also lacked the necessary information about the rules in order to have the same opportunities as everyone else in the competition; and especially to those poets who saw their names on the screen as finalists only to then find out they were actually not going to take part in the final round.
Please believe us when we say there’s no one more disappointed with how things went down than ourselves. And also know that we’re already conducting a full evaluation of each and every aspect of this first World Poetry Slam Championship in order to make it better for the next year and the years to come, not only in terms of scores and qualifications but also of equity and diversity.
All that being said, we’ll try to explain -with as much detail as possible- how things were supposed to go, what went wrong after the second semi-final, and how we dealt with the problem:
As we reported after the Networking Days last year (an on-line gathering open to anyone who was interested in having a voice in WPSO and WPSC matters), the competition format that was chosen for this first edition was the “Eurovision” proposal: a format thought to gather all the Poetry Slam community around the world in which participants are scored by the vote of the worldwide audience as well as by the vote of an international jury composed by members from every nation that would take part in the competition. For the purpose of the public voting, a voting app was provided on our official website for everyone who wanted to vote from home for their 5 favorite poets, giving 1 point to each. For the national juries’ voting, a Form was shared with the juries of every participating country so they could pick their 10 favorite poets and give them 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points, respectively. Then we had a live conversation with those members of national juries who were available at the time of voting so that everyone could hear from national juries’ own voices who their favorite poet had been (and who therefore received their 12 points). This was just for the show, however. Every vote had already been sent by the national juries some minutes before going live. Then all the scores were to be added up (international juries and audience) giving us a final score for each poet; the 20 highest scores of all 40 poets (both semi-finals combined) were to advance to the final.
2. What went wrong
The projection of the mistaken 20 finalists list was just the final result of a series of problems that we can divide into those which originated before the festival started and those which arose at the moment of the voting that day (Wed, 28 Sept, Second Semifinal day).
As for the problems which originated before the festival, we now realize that the way we managed the communication of the rules prior to the WPSC, both to the audience worldwide and, even more, to the poets and organizers taking part in the competition, was far from ideal. When we talked to them during the festival and in recent weeks, we learned that some of them weren’t fully aware of how exactly the voting was going to happen. Nor were they all aware that they could ask for their home countries' audience vote as the Spanish and French versions of the rules document shared by the organizing committee said the contrary, whilst the English version of it was correct. This resulted in some participants having many more audience votes than others and, although this was communicated correctly for the final round, it certainly affected the outcome of the semifinals.
Also, a lot of people from the worldwide audience complained about the voting app. It did not always give a proper confirmation message after the votes were sent and it also gave the impression that a person could vote more than once. In this regard, we want to assure everyone that even if the app didn’t give confirmation of the voting, every vote was submitted and arrived when a voter clicked on “send”, and that even if you were able to send more than one voting ballot, just the first one from each IP address was allowed through.
Finally, there is the issue on how the scores from the jury and the audience were added up: two weeks before the WPSC started, the organizing committee for the festival stated that the votes from the jury would represent 80% of the final score whilst the votes from the audience would complete the remaining 20%; at that point no detailed explanation was shared on how this was going to work in practice. So what ended up happening is that the math behind this proposal was incorrect, allowing score disparities between the poets from the first and second semi-final since many more people voted during the second semi-final. This is why we ended up with 15 poets from the second semi-final and just 5 from the first.
As for the problems that arose at the moment of the voting, during the 30-minute break on the second day -before announcing the finalists- we also understood that the time we had given ourselves for doing the calculations and coming up with every visual was just not enough, so tensions started to mount and errors inevitably occurred. As there wasn’t a proper program to do the math automatically, the organizing committee was transferring data from one file to another and it was at this point that human error intervened in the process, resulting in an erroneous list of finalists, which was then shared on screen without a second check as we were already way behind schedule.
3. How we addressed the situation
Immediately after the streaming ended, every poet and organizer was called back into the room to explain what happened and try to find a common solution to continue forward with the championship. At this point the organizing committee still hadn’t had all the information that we now have, information which can help explain the mistakes more fully. And so without all the needed information on hand, tensions again started to rise and tempers flared, and for that we once again want to express our apologies about the way in which that conversation was managed and also for the fact that even though the organizing committee said that the poets and organizers were going to be given until the following morning to come up with a proposal, this didn't turn out to be the case.
What happened the following morning was that a board meeting was called to consider different options: cancel the final round, have a final round with all 40 poets, have the final round with what the organizing committee thought were the 20 highest scoring poets plus the four poets whose names allegedly mistakenly appeared on screen or have the final round with what the organizing committee thought were the highest 20 scores. Then a voting session took place and by split decision the determination was to go ahead with the finals and to do so with what the organizing committee thought were the 20 highest scores.
So that night the finals took place and people told their truths: both poets and country representatives. Everyone was heard and had the opportunity to speak their mind. In the end, we are of the belief that, as always, poetry won.
As this statement comes to light, we’re also still seeing poets and organizers going public on their social media accounts to share their thoughts and sensations with their followers and the whole community. This is something we, as the horizontal organization we’re constantly working to become, not only understand but also encourage since it’s an important factor in our learning process as we attempt to achieve the goals we set for ourselves some years ago in our first statement as a newborn organization. And it is in the same spirit that we kindly ask, as you keep expressing yourselves and suggesting improvements in our organizing, that you do so in a respectful manner, without being drawn into deliberate attacks which, even when they’re related to situations already addressed in this document -and for which we are committed to creating the appropriate spaces within the organization for further discussion and understanding-, we feel can be solved within the boundaries of respecting each individual and their dignity.
A lot of work lies ahead and it's for us to get it done as a community. We ask all of you out there to join us in this learning process and build a better future for our organization and for this beautiful game we all love to play and that brought us all together. We can do better and we will do better. Brazil awaits us in 2023 as we keep sharing poetry and as we attempt to give every voice a place -and a chance- to be heard. Let's make it epic. Let’s do it together.