row2k Features
It's a Civilized Sport - More 'Views from the Referee's Launch'
May 17, 2024
Tom Mannle

It's a civilized sport-and we're trying to keep it that way.

The 22nd paragraph of the Referee Committee's Internal Operating Procedures (IOP 22) specifies the uniform to be worn by USRowing officials at sanctioned events: navy blazer with the Referee patch; blue dress or polo shirt, also with the Referee insignia, khaki pants or skirt, and a tie when appropriate.

This full regalia may only be appropriate if conditions permit, and we try to dress for the conditions on the water, hence rain gear, Gore-Tex jackets, etc. The IOP stresses that Referees should present a professional appearance at all times; this includes a clean, neat uniform for each day of an Event.

If in a multi-day regatta it's been impossible to officiate in the formal attire, we try to at least do so for the Finals races. Rather than a tie, Kate Godwin started the tradition of "pearls for finals" for female officials.

Why the formality? Given that the roots of rowing are in the Victorian era, to me it's not surprising that our uniform is based on the gentlemanly attire of a blazer. Although "formal" for us, a blazer would have been considered decidedly informal in that era, probably considered appropriate "for sport," and the minimum acceptable attire in which a proper gentleman could appear in public.

I'm not aware of any sport in which officials don't have a uniform of some kind, striped shirts are typically present in football and hockey. Some of our colleagues think the blazer is old fashioned bordering on fuddy-duddy and decline to wear it unless directed to by the Chief Referee.

On the contrary, our formal dress conveys respect to both the sport and the athletes involved and also permits easy identification of our roles and responsibilities. Formality, I think, also reinforces the authority granted to us under the Rules to make decisions ensuring safety and adjudicating fairness. A professional appearance supports our required professionalism.

So we're well-dressed-most of the time. We also try to be well spoken all of the time and expect athletes, coaches, parents, and spectators to refrain from the use of profanity. But given the intensity of the sport, we do hear it from time to time (and truth to tell, are guilty of it as well from time to time).

We don't like it...we're sensitive to profanity's effects on the decorum of the sport. We try to make a distinction about a coxswain hurling epithets at their rowers as a motivational technique, or the exuberant F-bomb at the end of a winning race, compared to insults hurled outside the boat and directed to other crews.

The latter is one instance of Unsportsmanlike Conduct which is covered by the Rules. Generally, a word with the crew involved will prevent a repetition; a Reprimand is one of the penalties provided in the Rules, which is just a stern talking-to. But if we couch it in terms of "I am giving you an official Reprimand" accompanied by a stern visage it seems to have more of an impact on preventing a recurrence of any vulgar outbursts.

I would be remiss if I concluded this point without mentioning the category of teams that I've observed as the consistent worst offenders: high school teams (well, maturity you know), particularly boys, and more specifically boys' teams from Catholic schools. Sorry guys, but it's true! Mea culpa.

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