Officiating · Olympics · Rio 2016

Official Time Out

Today’s a weights day for me, so instead of putting on some current coverage to watch while I lifted, I decided to get through some of my recordings (one of the saving graces about being so far behind is that I don’t really need to see semifinal games when I’ve already watched the gold medal match. TheFeverr is Time Savers).

I wanted to take a little time to talk about officiating. It’s a massively important part of sport because in the case of most sports, you need some sort of officials or referees or judges to keep the game safe and fair. A lot of sports beg for officials–and due to the difficulties of the job and the heightened abuse officials receive, it’s getting harder to retain them. And that’s in popular sports–smaller sports have to have it even harder when it comes to getting officials. This is one of the reasons why our sporting guides have information on how to get involved in officiating.

The other reason is that I’m an official (I officiate roller derby and have worked at the highest level of play), and I think it’s a great way to be involved with sport. In many cases–particularly at the highest level of play–you have to be fit, focused and have endurance. It can be as much an athletic endeavor as playing the sport itself. And you need a lot of confidence to be a (very) unpopular person and let bad calls roll off your back.

In terms of getting calls wrong, let’s look at the women’s rugby final. Australia vs. New Zealand. Australia attempts a try to tie up the match early on, and it’s contentious. Referee Alhambra Nievas checks in with the other refs to confirm her score. If you heard her hot mic, you heard her ask each official, “Are you happy [with the try]?” The male linesman was, the other female wasn’t, but Nievas went with the try instead of going to replay. Wrong call–and on the replay, the male linesman had bad position–was behind the play and didn’t see the ball touch down before it went into the end.

Australia ended up winning. Did this goal have an adverse effect on the outcome? No, but it gave Australia momentum, perhaps took a little wind out of New Zealand’s sails, but then a big penalty by one of their players that forced them to play short really didn’t help. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nievas beat herself up a little bit afterwards.

Still, the officials have worked incredibly hard to be in Rio, and it’s such an honor and testament to their dedication and work ethic that they’ve been chosen to officiate at the Olympics–and I’d say that the majority of these officials are volunteers, so they’re also putting a lot of money into traveling around the world to officiate tournaments and build up their abilities to be chosen for the world stage. They’re giving the best they can to each game–and sometimes they may get calls wrong–and they’re Olympians in their own right.

It’s nice when the broadcast coverage introduces the officials–or at least the head official for the event–and acknowledges their moment. I hope they’re able to take it in and understand that they’re the best of the best in the world. Sometimes you see it — on Monday Georgian Judo referee Vladimer Nutsubidze gave a tiny little smile to the camera before reffing one of the women’s 57kg bronze medal matches–perhaps unintentionally, since he’s probably not terribly used to having a camera in his face, but still. You go, Vladimer! You got a bronze medal match! Be proud of that, you Official Olympian!

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