The Referee was Horrible! What do I do?

As both Section Chair and a national referee, I have heard this complaint very frequently.  As the parent of two great fencers, I’ve felt it too.  Competitors scream and cry, coaches curse in a variety of languages, parents feel cheated.  Everyone says “why can’t we get better referees?”

First of all, like the rest of us, referees are imperfect, make mistakes, have good days and bad days.  But, with rare exception, they are all giving the task in front of them their fullest attention and best efforts.  Yet even the best referees make mistakes.

Second, they are usually seeing the action at an angle better than any spectator or coach.  An action that looks one way from directly in front of it can look like an entirely different action at the end of the strip.  Don’t assume that because you or your coach see it one way, that the referee will see it the same way – that isn’t always the case.

Third, refereeing is a difficult, high-stress and thankless job.  When it pays, it pays poorly.  The hours are long (at the 2008 PCCs, I worked two 13-hour days).  Worse yet, the highest-stress, most difficult calls often happen at the end of very long days.  It isn’t an easy job.

I often say that I referee for four reasons – the hours, the pay, the food, and the respect that I get from the fencers, their coaches and their parents.  I must be crazy ;).

These characteristics make it difficult to hire and recruit referees.  Getting paid very little to eat bad food, stand around for 13 hours a day and get yelled at is not the most attractive job.  But still, we do it – to give something back, to gain some status, because we enjoy the camaraderie of our brethren – all sorts of reasons.  We are even able to pull new people into it – slowly and reluctantly, for sure.  Sometimes these new refs are calling your bouts.

So what to do about a referee who is seeing it differently than you (or your child) is doing it?  Different from their coach’s advice?  Simple.  Change what you or your child is doing.  In a 5 or 15 touch bout, it is unlikely that the fencer is going to be able to teach the referee to see their perfect action.  Furthermore, trying to prove that action will likely cause the fencer to loose.

In foil and sabre, particularly, the fencer is fencing two people – the opponent and the referee.  He or she has to score with both of them to succeed.  



2 Responses

  1. What does one do when the referee looses count of the points, and gives the win to the wrong player? What recourse does a fencer have?

  2. If there is a question, it has to be resolved before the next point is fenced. It is appropriate to ask the referee for clarification prior to fencing again. If that can’t clear it up, the fencer (but not the coach or parent) can request that the head official come to the strip. Just don’t start fencing first.

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