Back in May, I came across an article in the San Diego Union entitled U.S. Soccer not hesitant to red-card its Officials. Since I’m a soccer player, I immediately knew the meaning of red-card, and was intrigued. A red card is what a player receives during a match for a serious infraction or for the accumulation of two less-serious yellow card infractions. When a player receives a red card, he is ejected from the game and his team plays a man short for the rest of the game.
So, what does U.S. Soccer’s referee division do with its less than stellar referees besides pull their license or lower the level of games that they may referee? For starters, it reviews match videos and compiles a list of the most difficult decisions. The reports then get posted to the web site, and emailed to hundreds of players, coaches, and soccer executives across the country. Why? Because U.S. Soccer wants to be honest with the soccer community about good and bad refereeing decisions, and to prevent the “us-against-the-world mentality” that exists in most sports. The best part of this philosophy is that U.S. Soccer does this without any regard as to how FIFA (The International Federation for Soccer) feels about its referees being second-guessed, or publicly admonished. USA Judo, please pay attention to that last sentence.
What can Judo learn from U.S. Soccer’s approach? First, do what’s right for American Judo, and don’t worry what the IJF thinks about it. Second, get rid of the wall of separation between the referees, and the coaches and players, by being up front and transparent.
I’d like to recommend several changes to the way we operate in American Judo. There should be some mechanism for coaches to participate in the decision to red-card referees. Yes, the noise you hear in the background is the refereeing commission screaming at the thought that coaches would have a say in their select and protected fiefdom! While it’s no secret that coaches often disagree with referees, it is also true that most coaches understand the difficulty referees have in doing their job, and that you can’t red-card every referee for every bad decision made. However, coaches should be able to register a “no confidence” vote against consistently bad referees. Let me give you two examples of referees who should have been red-carded.
Mr. X, an old-timer from Nanka Judo Yudanshakai in the Los Angeles area, used to start every match by asking the players what club they were from. The only time he didn’t do that was when he recognized the player or the player’s club patch. It became readily apparent to coaches that this referee’s decisions were based on his biases, good and bad, toward particular clubs or coaches. I complained to several of the A referees in Los Angeles, got the standard, “we’ll monitor him,” but was told almost in the same breath that we were already short on referees. I never knew whether he had been admonished or even talked to, but needless to say, Mr. X was allowed to continue to referee and to be biased. He should have been red-carded for good. Fortunately for us albeit fifteen years too late, old age did what the referee community would not do: it put him out to pasture.
Mrs. X is an international Judo referee, but most people I talk to are hard pressed to say how she became an international referee. I’ll bet it had something to do with IJF quotas for female referees. Her forte is her overzealousness in giving penalties. She’s by the book but doesn’t understand the Judo part of officiating. It’s a true spectacle to see her operate with her penalty binoculars on, carefully looking for those telltale signs that a player has momentarily stumbled into a forbidden grip while she totally ignores that player’s attempt to do Judo. Shido! Yes, Mrs. X is clueless when it comes to the Judo, more so in ne waza where she will call matte right in the middle of a complex sequence which she doesn’t understand because it’s doubtful she even plays Judo, certainly not the Judo she is expected to judge. For the life of me, I don’t understand how this person is not only allowed to referee internationally, but to be the central referee in finals. Mrs. X should be red-carded from high level matches because her understanding of Judo is not sufficient for that level.
Like U.S. Soccer, USA Judo should make better usage of the Internet to address good and bad decisions. Let’s discontinue the system currently used to disseminate information, namely waiting for the IJF to give the information to the chairs of the national refereeing commissions, which then give the information to their respective A referees, who then give the information to the referees in their area until it finally arrives in the hands of the coaches and players. And like most chains of communication, the original message has been modified or muddied by the time it gets to the last stop. Why have to go through so many layers of referees, and referees’ comments and interpretations, when the information can go directly from the national refereeing commission to all referees, coaches and players who are interested? In this manner, all of us in the Judo community would receive the same information in the same format from one source, USA Judo’s refereeing commission. This is where that wall of separation has to come tumbling down.
The other thing that must change at some point, and this unfortunately must come from the IJF, is the removal of the refereeing commission from the rule-making process.