Friday, June 18, 2010

The Referee Discount and Referee Bias

Wow, it's amazing how time gets away from you, isn't it? Luckily I now have a whole lot more of it.

On to the topic: The Ref Discount and Ref Bias

A couple of weeks ago I participated in an intense discussion regarding Code of Conducts, specifically the WFTDA Code of Conduct for Referees, required for certification. Let me be clear, no part of this post is intended as a criticism of this document, nor should it be construed as such. This is a publicly available document we should all be reading and signing, I want to discuss thoughts on how we follow it. Specifically one part, "[All WFTDA Referees Shall] Resist every temptation and outside pressure to use one’s position as an official to benefit oneself".

One topic that came up related to this was the common "Referee Discount". Gear is expensive. Travel and Lodging is expensiver. Any chance to reduce any of that, by even a sliver, is probably going to be lunged at and dog-piled on. Is that a problem? Is it a problem when it's specifically offered to you because you're a referee? Is this a violation of the Code of Conduct? We went back and forth, ultimately deciding that no, it wasn't. Gear and things like that were being offered to us not because of our position as Referees, but due to our more general involvement. If Rink Rats wore skates, they'd probably be offered wheel discounts also, it's one more person buying, it's one more person wearing and being seen wearing. So that's not such a concern.

Or is it? Something I've been considering since then is that, as always, we in Roller Derby find ourselves in a unique situation compared to other sports. We require some reasonably niche items AND we're highly invested in the DIY ethos that started this sport. As such, we probably patronize skater-owned companies more often than not. Skater owned companies make derby specific gear or won't look at you funny when you tell them what name you want on the back. Skater owned companies put money back into the sport. Skater owned companies are DIY. But Skater owned companies are owned by skaters. Sometimes operated solely by them. This issue, of the top suppliers also being current participants is unique to roller derby, and while it's fantastic for the sport, we should maybe consider how it could affect the perception of our job as referees.

If I'm offered a discount because I'm a referee by a skater operating their store, and the next day I referee that skater's team? And a fan who saw me get that discount sees me make what is a right no-call, but in their eyes is a wrong no-call on that skater. Was I biased? No, the call was right. Did I risk the integrity of the game by potentially appearing biased? Yeah, potentially.

So what's the solution? Discount gear is money saved, for a hobby that can cost us a lot and repay us little (monetarily speaking) that's important. But what's the point of doing it if we undermine the sport, what have we really saved then? Paying full price and/or third party dealers might be the options open to us. Or maybe there can't be a hard and fast rule. As the Code of Conduct is only a guide, and something we need to find ways to implement ourselves, we once again might be left to our best discretion.


  1. I'll freely admit I have two sets of wheels that were given to me by manufacturers. One of them came from a company owned by a skater I have reffed before (one of two such companies). The only thing I was expected to do in return for receiving them was test them on multiple surfaces and tell them what I thought. And the fact that I am a referee is a big part of WHY I was asked to do this. As a referee, I travel a lot more than skaters do. I regularly officiate all over the area and skate on a far wider range of floors than them. The skating skills that are required of me are, in many ways, an exaggerated version of what's required from skaters. As an OPR, I have to skate faster than the pack; as an IPR, I'm skating in tighter circles than anyone on the track; as a jammer ref, I'm doing both these things at the same time. On top of this, I am a frequent visitor to gearhead boards like Skatelog and have a pretty substantial arsenal of wheels from all manufacturers, ranging anywhere from 84a (hybrid indoor/outdoor wheels) to 97a (hard wheels I only use on recently refinished floors). So if I try something out and say "this sucks," they know it's a more educated and meaningful criticism than they're going to get from someone who buys wheels once a season and always gets the same thing.

    Honestly, I think that in a sport where many referees were brought into the fold by friends, roommates, family members, and significant others, and where it's not unheard-of for refs to have dated several skaters, the concern over "discounts" is trivial and really, really reaching. Presumably I'm calling a fair game, right? Presumably, unless one team is really that much more penalty-prone than the other, any doubt inspired by my unpopular no-call on Suzie Wheelowner would largely dissipate as I call penalties on both teams, right? And presumably we all know that the game belongs to the skaters, and we are solely messengers who relay their actions and apply the consequences that they, en masse, decided were appropriate for those actions, right? That does seem to be what happens in derby, anyway. Being fair and above-board is our Teflon.

  2. But, as is always the case, it's not about actual bias is it? it's about perceived bias. You would hope that a fan would forget that one call, but isn't it more likely that they'll ignore the good calls and catalog the calls they interpret to further their theory of bias?

    I would also add that, at some point, arguing based on how we (as a general we) came into derby has to become an irrelevant or dated point, we're moving beyond that by and large. People regularly come in as referees now, and nothing more.