Officiating Intent In The Open Water World

Officiating Intent In The Open Water World

Officiating in the sport of open water swimming is difficult. There are numerous examples of physicality* around turn buoys and feeding stations, and at the start, mid-section, and finish of races. The greater the number of swimmers, the greater the propensity for physicality. The greater the perceived or actual awards (cash, medals or otherwise), the greater the propensity for physicality. This is simply a function of competition.

But as the rules currently stand, many of the actions or instances of physicality are based on the intent of the swimmer doing the action.

In our opinion, the intent of open water swimmers is difficult to judge in the world of open water swimmers. When we officiate or adjudicate actions in the sport of open water swimming, we look at the action itself and the situation around the action. We do not make a subjective judgment on the intent or thought-process behind the action.

That is, a foul (yellow card or red card) is given because of the action itself (e.g., veering, pulling on legs, elbowing, punching, hitting, scratching, drafting off of a boat during the race, or other acts of unsportsmanlike conduct) rather than the intent or thought behind the action.

But this perspective of judging on the action itself, rather than the intent, appears to be in the minority.

From the perspective of many referees, the action is simply the result of the intent. So, when they adjudicate that when they believe or observe that the intent does not exist, there should be no call. Here is one concrete example, during the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, one swimmer got hit hard with another swimmer’s elbow right between the shoulder blades in the final straightaway. It was clear that he got elbowed as extreme pain shot through his shoulders; however, there was no call because it was judged to be unintentional and incidental contact. However, that same physicality and the same action of elbowing has been judged intentional by other referees in other races.

What is the difference? In one case, the swimmer was hit by an elbow in the back; in the other cases, the swimmer was hit by an elbow in the back. The difference was that in one case, the referee judged that the swimmer did not intend to hit, while in the other cases, the referee judged that the offending swimmers did intend to hit. But in both cases, the effect to the recipient was the same: pain and suffering. However, because the action of elbowing was called differently, the outcome of the races were different. Because the elbowing was based on the subjective decision by the referee, the effect on the races were different.

From our perspective, the result or the effect of the action or incident is the critical issue. The intent is something that we can not and do not use to make judgments on. If a swimmer hits another swimmer, intentionally or not, we would personally rule an infraction occurred. If a swimmers pulls on another swimmer, intentionally or not, we would make the call. But that is not how the rules are currently written and our perspective is in the minority.

At the end of the day in our observations and experience, when intent of the swimmer – that can not be objectively known – is the deciding factor, then rules can be subjectively applied and we think is not a good thing for the sport of open water swimming.

This topic will continue to be discussed in an upcoming Part 2 of Officiating In The Open Water.

* Physicality is the action of physical contact or confrontation in open water swimming competitions. The physical contact can be intentional or unintentional, and is generally caused by many swimmers or triathletes attempting to simultaneously swim in the same area or line, especially at the start, around turn buoys, at feeding stations, or at the finish.

Bumping, scratching, pulling [on legs or arms], veering into, tapping or touching [repeatedly], impeding, slapping, clipping, conking, swiping, whacking, pulling off [goggles or swim caps), cutting off, pummeling, nudging, punching, kicking, elbowing, ziplining, obstructing, interfering, pushing, jostling, shoving, crowding, banging [against], smacking, smashing into or pressing against another athlete, shoreline, river bank, turn buoy, feeding station, escort boat, kayaker, paddler or other fixed or moving object.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones