By Dave Coles
I like to watch rugby. I’ve been to a fair few live games and if I’ve nothing else to do on a Saturday afternoon, I will settle down to watch a game on TV. At some point in almost every game the referee will draw an imaginary oblong shape in the air with his fingers requesting the assistance of the television match official (TMO) or ‘video referee’ as they are more commonly known. The TMO will review the action, often several times from different camera angles, watching the action frame by
frame, before confirming TRY or NO TRY. Thirty players, with just one referee and two linesmen to support him, the odds on spotting everything are pretty slim.
Let us consider a sport where the officials heavily outnumber the players, let’s talk about Lawn Tennis.
Four sideline line judges, two centre service line judges, two service line judges, two foot fault judges, the umpire and the referee.
So with the officials in double figures for just two players the chances of making a mistake have got to be pretty slim right? ‘You cannot be serious’. Those of a certain age will remember John McEnroe and his many ‘outbursts’ regarding line calls and umpiring decisions during his playing career. Like every other sport on the planet, incidents of tennis officials making mistakes are numerous.
In 2007 HawkEye technology was used for the first time at The Wimbledon Championships and Australian Open. The problem of erroneous line calls solved? Well actually no, HawkEye has already been shown to have produced errors on a number of occasions.
Anyway, on to refereeing BJJ.
Over the last couple of years I have been unable to compete due to injury, and I have been concentrating on coaching and organising competitions. I had attended referee courses with IBJJF Head Referee Alvaro Mansor in London in June 2010 and Lisbon in January 2011.
Looking for another challenge I decided to see if I could get onto the refereeing team for The 2012 European Championships.
I e-mailed Mr Mansor regarding this and he informed me that if I did the referee course he would put me at the first phase of assessment on day one of the championships.
Progression to day two and beyond would depend on my performance.
I did the referee course, making copious notes in the rule book that I had printed off beforehand. After the course I spoke with Mr Mansor and he asked me to arrive at the venue at 8:00 the next morning.
I arrived just before 08:00 on the Thursday and was issued with an IBJJF referee shirt, a yellow and green wristband and black socks. Gus Oliveira (the organiser of Grab & Pull events) was also refereeing on day one and he asked me if I had earplugs, and if not he had some spare ones that I could have. I declined his offer as I didn’t really see the need for them.
To start with I was instructed to watch one on the highly experienced referees. Around midday Mr Mansor directed me to Mat area 7. I was to referee for one hour under his watchful eye and that of my mentor. If made mistakes I would be taken off and de-briefed. Too many mistakes and I would be taken off permanently.
The format was one hour on, one hour off. However, due to a shortage of referees one day, I did a three hour plus session without a break. During my hour off I would quickly go and get some food, (generally Acai), and then return to the mat to watch my mentor.
One of the most overwhelming things at the venue was the noise, the PA system was constantly in use and the hundreds of screaming coaches/supporters almost raising the roof, it was intense. After completing my first hour of officiating I went to find Gus, who at the time was looking under tables and behind the sponsor banners, trying to find his shoes that had gone missing. I obtained a pair of earplugs from him and unsuccessfully helped him look for his shoes.
At 7:00 pm I was still refereeing and at the end of the day Mr Mansor asked me to return for the next day at 9.00. So far so good.
Day two and I was again working with my mentor.
My mentor didn’t speak much English, and my Portuguese is not the best, but we got by. Sometimes he nodded and gave a slight smile and threw in a ‘muito bom’, a couple of the IBJJF officials commented very positively on my refereeing. A few fighters questioned my decisions sometimes for points awarded (or not), and sometimes for my decision when the scores were level at the end. At the end of one fight the scores were level and I had noted the blue gi had dominated throughout the fight.
However, the fighter in the blue gi had received a minor warning for placing his hand directly into the face of his opponent. This scenario was covered in the rules meeting, and following the rules, I had to raise the arm of the fighter in the white gi. Even with the ear plugs in, I could hear the reaction from the crowd.
At the end of day two I was asked if I wanted to return the next day to referee the Brown and Black Belts. Too right I did, and again I was told my position in the centre of the mat was dependent on my performance.
Day three started things were going well, but I wondered why lots of photographers and both camera crews suddenly came to the edge of my mat. Then onto my mat walks Saulo Ribeiro. Do you ever get the two voices, one on each shoulder, Mr Negative and Mr Positive, advising you on various matters? Well Mr Positive was repeating the words of Mr Mansor from the morning briefing “do not look at the athlete, just referee the match as you would any other. ” On the other shoulder, Mr Negative was going into overdrive “That’s Saulo Ribeiro, you don’t want to be messing this up.” As it happened it was an easy fight to ref, with Saulo subbing his opponent with a strangle in less than two minutes. For me it was a great experience and an honour to referee a BJJ legend.
During day three some of the referees were competing, this left a bit of a shortage of referees and I ended up doing a three hour plus session without a break. Maintaining my concentration for this long period was not an easy task.
The pressure of refereeing at an event like the Euros is immense. Like many of these athletes I have competed all over the world, dedicating a great deal of time and effort to training for the event and spending lots of money to get there. The fighter’s progression in the event can depend on the decisions I make they are not decisions that are made lightly. Having completed four days of refereeing at The Euros has really made me appreciate how difficult a job refereeing is. I would advise everyone to get on a rules course and have a go at refereeing, even if it’s just at an inter-club under the guidance of your instructor. During rolling at my club I often get my students to have a go at refereeing. Even the juniors do it and some are surprisingly very good.
So before you judge me, please walk a mile in my shoes, then you will be a mile away and you will have my shoes. Oh and if you had Gus’s shoes can you let him have them back at the next Grab & Pull event.
Did I make any mistakes during my four days at the Euros? Like any referee at any sporting event, I’m sure I did. If it was in your match then I apologise unreservedly. I prepared as best I could by attending three rules seminars, I repeatedly read the rule book and was constantly asking the more experienced referees for advice. I have ten years of BJJ experience. I went out there to do the best job that I possibly could.
I hope to referee at a major event again where, I will be one person judging two fighters. I do not have linesmen, corner judges, or the luxury of a video replay. I may have been refereeing the two days before for 12 hours a day. On the day I may have been refereeing for several hours without a break.
So if you are watching and see me make a mistake please don’t hesitate to shout and scream about it. If you see me on my break, please come and point out my errors, but first of all, let’s talk about Lawn Tennis.