The "Official" Story

Our previous post about officials sparked some interesting discussion in the comment thread. We thought two contributions from people deeply involved in the “official” world were particularly interesting. In case you missed them, we have copied them here. They’re still available in the previous post’s comments also.

Joe DiPietro said

Thank you on behalf of Jay and Beth for your complimentary post. I’ve worked with both on the deck many times over the years and feel I can speak for them on this issue. In fact, I would have been working this JO’s in Coral Springs except that I was out at NCAA Division III’s in Houston – as a partisan spectator.

It’s always difficult when an official feels it is necessary to DQ a swimmer, particularly one of Rhi’s caliber at a championship meet. We don’t delude ourselves that such a DQ is useful learning experience. It is what it is, a call made to enforce this rules, serving no beneficial purpose for the swimmer involved.

I know that part of the difficulty in this case was the fact the USA Swimming rules differ from FINA rules on the matter of notification. FINA absolutely requires notification while USA Swimming requires “reasonable efforts”. What is considered reasonable depends on what is happening at the meet itself and is defined by the meet referee, not the coaches nor the swimmers.

In this particular instance, I happen to know that there was a problem at the other pool which might have resulted in a number of swimmers missing their heats. Beth’s choice was to deal with issue immediately to prevent that problem.

As officials, we represent all the swimmers and the integrity of the sport. Our first job is to enforce the rules; but, to always strive to find a way within those rules to let each swimmer swim. Sometimes. we can not find a way to do that.

When that happens, the swimmer frequently disagrees with our action. Even when the swimmer acknowledges the rightness of the call, we expect the coach to strongly advocate for the swimmer – to be a pain. As referees, we expect and accept it – sometimes with gritted teeth behind our smile. Still, we do our best to deal with the situation with good grace because our second job, maybe our toughest job, at a swim meet is to keep it all sane.

Part of that is “no feuds”. A call was made. The coach tried to get it overturned via the “legalistic” approach. In the heat of the moment, he took personal issue with the process to the point of escalating his complaint about an official’s conduct to another level of the hierarchy. He was politley told, “no dice”, while being informed of an alternate avenue to protest to the call. For a good official, that’s the end of the story.

The next swim, the next call, the next interaction on the deck are completely new and must be dealt with on their own merits. Beth is as good as a referee as there is, when it comes to “no feuds”. Having a fine and peppery sense of humor, I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed your commentary.

Jay Thomas said

You know the Internet is an interesting place. I have been reading David’s blog for some time and I have a pretty good feeling for its tone.

David and I have exchanged emails on the situation since last weekend and I feel we both have a good understanding of each others position. He was being an emotional advocate for his swimmer…digging as deep as he could into his Barney Bag trying as hard as he could to try and get his swimmer off from a technical rules violation……and we (officials) were doing what we could to be fair to all involved. That’s all in a weekends duty as an official. That David aired it out in a public forum is a little different…but no big deal.

I have a life outside of swimming. The weekend of this meet, I was with my younger daughter out in Colorado at one of her volleyball tournaments. Wow…a weekend away from swimming….what a concept!

I asked Beth to serve as the Meet Referee for this meet. She is a top notch official and I really trust her sound decision making abilities.

I received a call from Beth while I was out in Colorado to inform me that I would probably be hearing from David regarding this situation. When I went back to my hotel between volleyball sessions, I received the email in question from David. I responded just as David published in the blog….Beth was the Referee…and yes I am the Official’s Committee Chair…but that does not mean I am the one to run to every time a coach or official does not agree with a call. I have to trust the people I put in place…we trained Beth well and she did a great job. It is unfortunate that Rhi did not get notified of the disqualification. But not getting notified is not grounds for overturning the call.

One of the main reasons for the notification is so that swimmers/coaches have the opportunity to dispute the call via a protest to the Referee. There is a 30 minute window where protest of the technical rule are permitted. If there is no notification of a disqualification, how could one dispute the call? The remedy for not being notified is not overturning the call, but rather to allow the swimmer/coach to dispute the call via protest outside of the normal 30 minute window.

The protest would be the coaches assertion that the official mis-applied the rule or did not make a proper observation (looked at the wrong lane or something like that.) That is a protest of the technical rule…the protest is made to the Referee and the Referees decision is final (as per rule)

I think that David also could have challenged Beth’s decision not to overturn the call based on lack of notification. Since that was a decision of the Referee, I think that could have gone to a Meet Jury. I am fairly confident that they would have upheld the Referee’s decision. This is what I was suggesting to David in my email response.

I go pretty far back in Rhi’s swimming career. I have known her since she was a little one. I remember her mom making sure I scored her high point correctly when she was a young age grouper swimming open events. I remember her making her first Junior National cut. I remember hearing her say “I am going to make my trials cut today and then go to trials this summer” with confidence…and then go out and do it. I remember Nationals in Fort Lauderdale….nice 200 Free! I remember the nose ring at the Woodson at Pine Crest. I remember having a discussion with one of her previous coaches about the fine line that we have to dance when dealing with her as an elite athlete. We have to hold her to the same rules and standards that we hold every other athlete. One of the great things about Rhi is that she understands and respects that. As outwardly irreverent she sometimes may appear, she understands and holds high the importance of the integrity of our sport.

Doug – thanks for the nice comments. You have a great daughter.