The first six months of the Ombudsman Committee has been spent exploring the the best ways to fulfill the role that we’ve been given: fostering communication between US Fencing referees and the FOC. Many have communicated, some with complaints and some looking for clarification. No matter the role or reason, this committee appreciates both referees and members of the FOC taking the time to discuss and listen to the topics that are important to you as workers for US Fencing.
We have identified a number of areas where the FOC is either not following stated procedures, or needs to augment the procedures and work to address perceptions among the cadre. In our role as ombudsman, these are the issues and possible solutions as we see them.
The domestic hiring procedure varies based on who is responsible for hiring per event. There are: different emails, different verbiage, and different methods of handling exceptions. These make it difficult to immediately identify whether a referee is hired or not.
- Possible Solution: Standardize the hiring process. This would include email communications and policies. The Ombudsman Committee recognizes that there are individual cases of availability and hiring needs, but original communication and hiring confirmation should be standardized. Stated guidelines for how exceptions will be handled including a time frame for confirming a hiring decision should exist.
The sanctioning and ethics procedure are documented on the FOC website, but their application varies. We have heard from several referees who have questioned the use of the Ethics Complaint as a disciplinary tool, when the disciplinary matter may not actually qualify as an ethics violation. The possible sanctions and their application seem to vary widely, as well. There is a published list of possible sanctions in the Referee Code of Ethics, which include:
- “The referee will be asked to write a letter (or letters) of apology
- “The referee will receive a reprimand from the FOC with delineated warnings concerning further breaches of the Code of Ethics.
- “The referee will be removed from the cadre of officials for that particular day of fencing. All costs (percent of flight, hotel, per diem and honorarium) to the USFA for that day will be borne by the referee.
- “The referee will be removed for the entire duration of the competition (defined as all events that take place at that particular national competition – i.e. NAC) and be responsible for full flight and hotel costs. Per diem and honoraria will be forfeited”
These are listed in the Referee Code of Ethics, not the FOC’s Ethics Complaint Process page.
- Possible Solution: The entirety of the process, and all FOC processes, should be disclosed at an authoritative source decided on by the FOC, and if necessary, the Board of Directors.
Ethics Complaint Process
The FOC is not following the published timeline of a ten day response on Ethics Complaint cases. The guidelines state:
- The chair of the Ethics Committee and the chair of the FOC will determine, within ten (10) business days, (unanimous agreement) whether or not any suspension (in addition to the one given by the Assigner at the event) is warranted while the investigation is ongoing.
The Ombudsman Comittee has been contacted about several cases where involved parties havd been waiting for several days, if not months beyond the published time frame for a response from the Ethics Committee Chair.
- Possible Solution: Maintain a database of communications, which can be audited by the Secretary of the FOC to ensure the communication of the process is handled properly to all parties involved in the complaint.
- Possible Solution: Ten days seems short and perhaps the FOC should increase the time allotted for investigation and response. All investigations should conclude by that time and responses should be sent to all parties involved in the complaint process.
In addition, there are several possible suggested on-site sanctions for an offending referee. Suggested sanctions could include:
- “FOC assigner(s) may remove the referee from the remainder of the NAC where the alleged breach occurred if the assignor feels that a prima facie case has been made by the complainant.”
The consequences for the referee at an NAC are also spelled out on the Ethics Complaint Page:
- “This may require the referee to forfeit per diem and honorarium. It may also require the referee to reimburse USA Fencing for hotel and transportation expenses.”
- “…it is designated by the chair (not less than 10 days), that referee will be suspended from all NACs and National Championships until the Ethics Committee makes its ruling for failure to cooperate.”
- “If the committee rules there was a breach of ethics, the committee will also determine the repercussions.”
This is vague and leaves ambiguity for the suspension.
- Possible Solution: Sanctions should be standardized. This list cannot cover all situations, but something which mentions consequences for number of offences, as well severity of offences (i.e., from minor offences like being repeatedly late to events, to sobriety issues, all the way up to clear examples of cheating).
Role of the Assignor involved in an ethics complaint
There is plenty of text describing the role of the FOC Assigner in dealing with a complaint. There is no mention of a what happens if a complaint made against the assignor him/herself. Questions that arise as a result are, but not limited to:
- Is the Assignor subject to the same penalty as the referee?
- Could the Assignor be dismissed and made to refund US Fencing the cost of airfare and lodging?
- What rights are guaranteed to the referee who made the complaint against reprisal?
- Who should handle the case of a complaint against an FOC Assignor?
- What if the complaint is against the Chair or other member of the Ethics Committee?
- Who then handles the case?
- Possible Solution: The FOC should identify and address these concerns. Additional clarity as to the roles and processes of the FOC would only serve to increase transparency and build confidence in the Commission.
Referees returning from suspensions have raised concerns that their reputation would be harmed as a result of the suspension. There have also been concerns brought to light about the FOC’s scope, and the level to which they can suspend a referee, as we have heard of cases recently where the FOC has made claims that the can suspend a referee from all USFA sanctioned tournaments, despite the lack of requirements for licensed referees at all USFA tournaments, and the FOC’s admitted lack of oversight for referees at levels outside of national events.
- Possible Solution: As they have completed the cause of due process, a statement that the referee will return in good standing after any suspension is served should be added to the last portion of the ethics complaint process. We recommend that the secretary also inform all members of the FOC that this suspension has completed, CCing the referee returning. It is also important for the organizational as a whole to decide the purview of the FOC in regards to “no-hire” mandates for referees under an FOC disciplinary action.
Concerns regarding retribution
There is a general perception among the US referees that it is important that FOC members reprimand referees publicly versus giving constructive feedback to working referees. This general perception is something that the committee deals with as we deliberate during the communication process that we’ve established.
- Possible Solution: The FOC should address this perception from both perspectives, specifically confronting behavior of its own members that could be perceived as retribution, while at the same time working with referees to alleviate the perception that they are not targeted. The Ombudsman Committee firmly believes that Referees and the FOC should have a respectful, working relationship, and that the FOC and working referees work together to end this perception.