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The Secret Umpire: Unsportsmanlike behaviour

We continue this series of articles on the application of the Rules of Racing and their significance to the rowing community with a visit to Control Commission with a look at the unsportsmanlike behaviour rule

As with many sports we in rowing would love to think that our “game” is always played fairly and in the best spirit and encompasses all that is good about exercise, health and competition. I’m sure most of us would agree that for the most part this holds true, but, and there’s always a but, there are times when…

Most of the umpiring community have been, or are still, competitors. We understand that rowers and coxes train hard, often in unpleasant winter conditions, and suffer physical and mental pain to prepare themselves for “combat”. That encompasses a certain attitude and, let’s face it, we all like to win. There is often a fine line however between gamesmanship, cheating, and being judged to be unsportsmanlike.

Very few people would argue against for example the removal of the seven yellow jerseys from Lance Armstrong, despite his so called “redemptive confession” to Oprah Winfrey. At the very least his behaviour was unsportsmanlike. We could argue this case as black and white, but I am sure there are some people who would defend even him.

So, what one person might consider unsportsmanlike, others may feel is acceptable, but we do have words in the Rules of Racing that permit penalties for this type of behaviour.

If you then use Anglo-Saxon expletives to inform the late crew(s) of your displeasure, you are equally likely to get a similar warning!

I could now give a long list which would probably be incomplete and likely open to debate. We have no clear definition, but it is there to allow umpires to penalise those who are not showing sufficient respect for the rules, other competitors, or safety.

We have all been in the situation where we have dutifully turned up well in time for our race, got attached before the two-minute warning, and have then twiddled our thumbs waiting for one or more opponents who are late.

A dutiful umpire would consider this unsportsmanlike of the opponent(s) and give them an official warning. But if you then use expletives to inform the late crew(s) of your displeasure, you are equally likely to be warned!

One winter, whilst umpiring a head race from the bank, I witnessed the common scenario of a faster crew being hindered by a slower, less competent crew. Very annoying I know, as it happened to me on many occasions! The unfortunate choice of language by the offended crew in a public place – as there were spectators including young children – led me to penalise that crew, which added to their time on top of the delay they incurred from the slower crew. Was I being unkind? Is that acceptable behaviour from competitors? I will leave you to judge.

But mainly we just like chatting to the crews – so please be nice to us.

Next Secret Umpire article: Competition cancellations >>

Find out more about umpiring

Have you considered umpiring?

We are always looking for new recruits to replace those who step down. You can still umpire and race/coach at the same time, as many of our community still do. The minimum requirement is just three separate days and 12 hours per year.

If you are interested, then please contact the National Umpiring Committee. We will then direct you to your regional umpiring committee for training.

You will be warmly welcomed!