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The future of Competition Karate?

Referee’s (especially in sports like Football) are often slated for being biased and / or incompetent, and they are often not the most liked people in the world of sport. So why would anyone want to become one?

I’m going to start this post with a controversial (but in my opinion true) statement, ‘without Referee’s and Judges, Karate competition will cease to exist’. Some traditionalists would love nothing better but I personally believe that Karate competition gives more to the Martial Art/Sport than it takes away.

Judges and officials are often in short supply at competitions so it  was great to see a small army of referee’s and judges at the 1st English Karate Federation Kyu Grade Championships in Sheffield last weekend. They covered the full range of qualification and experience levels from Novice  to Association, National, European and no doubt International level. Their was also an army of table officials.

I may be wrong but I believe that I was one of the youngest judges their and if that’s the case then what does that indicate? I may feel old but chronologically I’m not yet ‘past it’. So why were there not more ahem… youngsters there? I don’t know how many judges/referee’s are qualified in England and  I certainly don’t know the average age of them but I DO think this is something that really needs looking at.

If we don’t get more young people interested in refereeing and judging  then at some point in the future we are going to run out of them. Full stop. By the way, the same argument can be made for Karate Instructors too!

Barriers:

So, what’s stopping people from signing up? effort? cost? time? other commitments? Lack of opportunity? image of referee’s & judges?

Without knowing what the barriers are we can’t expect to ‘fix’ the problem.

From my personal experience as a competitor and coach, I can say that I’ve had my share of good and bad decisions against me. I’ve also been on the receiving end of blatant cheating and incompetence by officials too. I think that for the most part I’ve managed to ‘take the hit’ and have always explained to my students (& parents) that referee’s are only human and mistakes/bad calls can and do happen.

Suggestions:

Know the rules. If instructors don’t understand the competition rules, then it’s unlikely that their students will. So my first simple suggestion is that every instructor at the very least should know the up to date WKF Competition rules. Also if they are unwilling or unable to do so themselves, they should encourage someone from their club to attend referee training courses. This could be association, regional or even national level. every little helps! 

Competition organisers also have a big part to play, it shouldn’t cost referee’s and judges to attend an event and volunteer all day. It can work out very expensive if you have to travel, pay for food and sometime even accommodation. Most competitions will turn at least a modest profit, and ‘judge expenses’ should be factored into the event costs. Even a token payment of (for example) £20 would be appreciated. At these rates you’d be looking at at least £800 for 40 judges to cover six areas (new rules, 1x referee, 4x judge, 1x match controller – per area!). This is a lot of money but remember, this is an investment in the future of the sport.

We need the best possible referee’s at as many competitions as possible. They need to be experienced enough to make decisions accurately, to only score points that are actually good enough to score. If they don’t, then athletes will think their sub-standard techniques are great and then get destroyed when attending an overseas competition!

Another issue is that athletes need to compete. This may seem like a silly point but it’s quite surprising when you look at some squads how little they actually compete. This isn’t a criticism, it’s merely an observation but even our own style’s national Team, Wadokai England has members who only compete at the Wadokai European Championships each year. Some don’t enter domestic competitions and if they do, they only enter the ‘small ones’ or the ‘Wado only’ ones. It’s often the ‘big fish in the little pond’ scenario. Athletes don’t like to enter the big or multi-style/open events because they think they won’t win (especially in Wado Kata), so they become insular and the standard stagnates. If there is poor attendance at events, competitions will lose money and will cease to run meaning less opportunities in Karate!

The excuse: ‘the judges don’t understand Wado Kata’ is often used by coaches and athletes to explain why they didn’t win at a particular competition. This may be true BUT if Wado athletes refuse to enter open competitions then how will they ever know what a ‘good Kata’ looks like? I know of a number of very good Wado clubs that actively enter the open circuit and do very well so I think it’s more down to performance standard than what style Kata a lot of time (but not all!)

Also, back to my first point… we need more referee’s and judges, so the Wado fraternity should invest more £££ in their respective in-house referee training programs. The graduates of these programs can then move onto national qualifications and thus help bolter the number of great Wado ref’s out there. The more good quality referee’s and judges out there the better and we all have our small parts to play. If you have 50 officials at a competition and only 1 or 2 are biased or inexperienced then that is great, if you’ve only got 10 officials at the same event then the bias and inexperience is going to be felt more.

Bigger Picture: 

  • We need referee’s & Judges, they should be encouraged
  • Instructors need to learn the rules & teach them to their students
  • Competition organisers should pay expenses for all referee’s and judges
  • Athletes need to enter competitions

Disclaimer:

I am NOT an expert in refereeing and judging and I don’t claim to be. These are my own observations from my limited experience of national-level judging and running a number of very successful championships. The post is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure people may disagree, comment below and we can continue the debate.

The next referee course is: Sunday 29th January in Barnsley, England.

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