The job of the Ombudsman group is to provide an independent platform for the concerns of the referee cadre to be addressed. Our group shares these concerns, and recommendations regarding them, directly with the Referee Commission (RC) and, in some cases, with broader constituencies that affect the cadre. While we are not a group that creates policy decisions, we strive to make the RC aware and accountable on a variety of issues facing the cadre. This past year our efforts have fostered greater clarification on policy decisions as well as broadened the discussion of ethical behavior on and off the strip. Moreover, our recommendations have helped nudge actions by policy makers to improve tournament staffing and working conditions. We would like to share some of our work from this past year. As you read the issues that we tackled, please consider what else the Ombudsman can do for you.
- We began the year opining that the previous hiring ratio of refs to strips of 1.4 was untenable for the size and strength of our NACs. Our communication with the RC and others involved in tournament decisions was based on the concerns of numerous colleagues who were becoming frustrated with under-staffing. We are pleased to report that the ratio of refs to strip has been increased to 1.55. Moreover, USA Fencing has increased the hiring ratio without passing the additional expense this incurs onto competitors.
Throughout the discussion of this issue with the RC Domestic Assignment Committee, Tournament Committee, and the National Office, we have learned of efforts to adapt hiring ratios based on the needs of individual tournaments. We also learned of efforts to utilize data from previous tournaments to more efficiently staff subsequent events. With the promotion of one of our members to Vice-Chair of Domestic Development, we look forward to working with various stakeholders to make NACs a rewarding experience for athletes and officials. Further concerns that we have brought to the fore on this issue include better transparency in hiring decisions/communication and more consideration of part-time referees.
- Throughout last year, we have been listening to concerns about the assignment of referees during events (allocation of higher level bouts which provide needed experience as well as management of working hours). While the management of hours has improved due to the diligence of the new referee coordinator role as well as the improved hiring ratio, the RC has also broadened the field of National Assignors and Referee Coordinators. This is having the effect of bringing fresh perspectives to referee management at NACs. We will continue to share the issues we are hearing as new assigners learn their roles.
- We have listened to our colleagues raise a host of issues regarding the last Summer Nationals and March NAC. Both of these events annually face unique staffing issues. For the March NAC, we suggested that the number of events be reduced. A historical shortage of referees has occurred because of the running of NCAA regional competitions on the same weekend as the March NAC. We also suggested a more central location or alternate date as other ways to improve the situation.
There are always numerous gripes when it comes to Summer Nationals due to the size of the event. While we continue to address delays in referee usage and equitable report times among other things, we concluded that communication regarding pay is the easiest to fix. We believe that National Office has heard our plea for better transparency for this year’s Summer Nationals as evidenced by their clarifying communications at events this season.
- We have advocated for several policy clarifications from the RC this year. In every case, the RC responded with a clarifying post. These included video replay guidelines, strip boundary definitions, and clarification of rules interpretations.
- Towards the end of the year we began hearing an increase in complaints about unethical behavior, both by referees and towards referees, on and off the strip. Some of these complaints extended to social media. As a result, we asked the RC to update the Referee Code of Ethics to specifically address the use of social media.
- On a related note, we have heard from many in the cadre who have described a culture of sexual harassment that has not been eradicated. We have asked the RC to provide clearer guidance on official channels to report sexual harassment. A letter from the RC detailing channels for sexual harassment reporting was created in consultation with the National Office. The Ombudsman group is also committed to remaining a safe space for members of the cadre to talk about sexual harassment within our community. We are also open to hearing ideas on how leadership within various facets of USA Fencing can better address this issue.
- Finally, no concern is too minuscule for us to hear. We have helped cadre members learn more about specific questions ranging from international assignment decisions to how to navigate the SafeSport website.
Please contact us if there is any way we can better serve you.