… that is the question.
Is it nobler to spend the long hours of one’s day at a thankless and exhausting chore? Or better to avoid refereeing where and when possible?
This is the question that was posed to me – more or less – by the entry form to this year’s Norfolk Open. It is a surprising question, in that it is normally not asked on the form. It is also an unsurprising question, in that there is not a tournament (for adults) in the UK in which the fencers do not have to referee themselves.
Even the national championships and Leon Paul Cup feature some self-refereed pools.
Since I have arrived in the UK — despite very much disliking the concept of the self-refereed event — I have contributed pretty much as much as I could, at almost every event I have attended. I am what you might call “not bad” at the whole refereeing thing (which is an attribute not shared by many of my fellow fencers), and figured that by pitching in I was improving things.
But I wonder if my contributions are actually improving things, or merely contributing to the status quo. The last tournament I attended featured a cadre of one referee who was not fencing — and he was one of the organisers. Between the men’s and women’s foil events, there was £2,000 in prize money and £0 spent on referees.
I refused to referee for free at this event with large cash prizes. It was the most enjoyable day I have spent at a (non-World Cup) tournament since I left Canada in 2006. Fencing. Watching my next opponent. Supporting my clubmates. I had not had a day like it in a long, long time. And I had missed being able to simply enjoy the atmosphere of a fencing tournament.
And I realized something – I don’t enjoy refereeing. Not enough to make it worthwhile.
If I’m waking up at 5 am, getting home at 10 pm, exhausting myself with exercise, spending money on trains, taxis, entry fees, fencing kit and (often) hotels, I want to enjoy that whole experience. And I enjoy it when I’m fencing, and spending time with (and supporting) my clubmates.
I do not enjoy it when every moment between bouts is spent refereeing. And if I’m spending money to attend the tournament — to spend time away from my daughter, to take a break, to have some recreation — I’m damned well going to make the most of it, and try to enjoy the experience.
So the Norfolk Open asked me if I would referee. They would cover expenses, they say. These would be mine:
- Transport: Approximately £26.
- Entry Fee: £17
- Breakfast: £5
- Dinner: £15
That’s £63. But it doesn’t take into account that it ruined my day of fencing, so they owe me another one of those, of approximately the same quality … £126. Which is probably not the amount they have in mind. And that’s assuming I’d “do it for free”.
Which is the second problem with refereeing in Britain. British Fencing policy is that referees are not paid; they are merely reimbursed their expenses. As a referee, you will always be somewhat overworked, but the amazingly small size of the British refereeing corps makes that even more so.
So I have a refereeing policy, which I will adhere to from now on:
I will not referee if I am fencing at a tournament. It is not why I’m there. I accept that some amount of refereeing is unavoidable, if the fencing tournament is to run at all, but I believe that by refereeing for free I am contributing to the problem, rather than the solution.
Hence, I will purposely avoid refereeing as a fencer. I will only referee if hired as a referee.
And in that case, my fees are 1 month of my fencing club fees (currently £90) plus expenses. The idea being that if I referee a tournament every month, it ought to cover my club fees.
What I can guarantee is that I am not paying upwards of £60 on the weekend to work my ass off so other people can enjoy their hobby while I’m not enjoying mine. I can save my money and have more enjoyable days in my garden.
Fancy hat available for sale here.