August 28, 2008

Hounds and foxes

I'll show you early E!It’s too bad that World’s Week coincided with the first half of the Olympics. Not that I watched or followed the second week that much, but I didn’t see any of the first week except for the awesomely staged opening ceremonies.

I did note quite a bit of commentary about the Olympic events that are subjectively judged. Diving, judo, synchronized swimming and the like are all subjective sports; that is, you don’t score goals or race against a stopwatch. There even seemed to be calls to get rid of these judged events, since uneducated viewers can’t easily determine what’s a good triple-spin-double-loop-hold-the-toes-no-splishy-splash dive and what isn’t. These events are also fraught with allegations of bias and corruption.

Sound familiar?

It all got out of control when a Cuban tae kwon do competitor took out his frustration on one of the judges and delivered a flying wheel-kick to his chin, putting the judge in the hospital, resulting in the Cuban’s probable ban for life from competing.

Pipe band judges over the years have rarely been the victim of an actual physical assault by a competitor, but every year there are tales of band members having a verbal go at a judge for the decision they rendered. Usually, it goes like this: after the contest competitors meet at the beer tent or a popular pub for one two or 20 pints. After tense competition there are those few who are celebrating a win, but the majority is probably disappointed. Emotions run high, and alcohol fuels the mood. Someone decides to ask a judge a question about the result. The answer’s not satisfactory. An argument starts. People get pulled apart. Complaints are filed. No one wins.

A few judges make the chronic mistake of trying to share in the socializing with the competitors. Instead of doing their own thing, or simply going home, far from the madding crowd, they instead try to take part in the competitors’ party. In an ideal world there’s no reason why a judge should not be allowed to socialize with competitors, and one would wish that everyone could just get along. But that’s just not realistic.

After a significant event, it’s best for a pipe band judge to make him- or herself scarce. As tempting as it might be to hit the beer-tent, it’s not advisable. There will always be disappointed competitors and those who read their score sheets with incredulity and make a B-line for the judge for an explanation. Add a few drinks to the mix and you’re just asking for trouble.

Judging can be rather lonely. By necessity, it should not be about socializing with competitors before, during or after the event. That’s not to say that a judge should not be approachable and not welcome reasonable, sober questions. Far from it. But that can happen a day or days after the contest, when heads have cooled, recordings have been assessed, and hangovers have been beaten.

An adjudicator who insists on hanging out with those he just judged does so at his peril.


  1. I wonder if Olypmic adjudicators socalize with those that they judge? Or even better, judge those that they teach?

    Think that would fly on the worlds stage of sport?

  2. Sounds like sour grapes to me – Keeping in mind that judging soloists or pipe bands is a far cry from judging most sports where the winner is obvious i.e. camera, time etc.

  3. No sour grapes at all, “Haggis”.

    The adjudication of piping and pipe bands is, and has always been, very subjective.

    Just food for thought. Lighten up!

  4. It would help if some judges wouldn’t write stuff like:

    “M’Tahk vey the tlhInganpu during the first tune. Drones sounded targhmey al ruhk. During last tune, better jengva nGop. Otherwise, good set. Qapla!”

    Fluency in written Klingon is necessary with some of the judges I’ve encountered.

  5. I don’t have a problem at all with judges socializing in the beertent or pubs after a contest. They, for the most part, are still very much a part of the same small fraternity as we the competitors. They all have a background playing as a competitor, and I think you would be hard pressed to find people to volunteer to be a judge if you set a policy that they couldn’t enjoy themselves at the games by socializing with their friends/acquaintances they have known for years.

    Besides, good things can happen during the time after a contest where a Judge can give competitors pointers on where they need some work. Sort of gives them a chance to explain why they were placed the way they were, or help them decipher some of their chicken scratches.

  6. Here’s a more important question than merely discussing judging: Has the RSPBA considered rescheduling the Worlds for 2012? As pointed out, the Olympics and Worlds overlap more often than not. In 2012, London is going to be a NIGHTMARE to travel in to and out of… and plenty of overseas travelers for Worlds travel through the London airports on the way to Scotland.

    My prediction: If they refuse to reschedule (and, frankly, given RSPBA’s oh-so-welcoming attitude to bands from outside their association, I imagine they will refuse), there will be a lot fewer overseas bands present. If any at all!

    Food for thought.

  7. Band Policy should state that any band member caught confronting a judge in a negative way, is automatic grounds for dismissal.

    There’s no excuse for that behaviour!

  8. The problem with subjective judging and competitions is that we all love to play the music and win the prizes, and so we continue to do so, even when the system seems unfair. A casual review of the Grade 1 breakdowns raises some questions—many which have been raised before—and you have to ask the question about whether judges who work with specific bands can be allowed to judge those bands in major contests. If you fly in to work with band X, assist them with harmonies, arrangements, scores, whatever…won’t it seem a little fixed to other bands when you judge them? Highland dancing has rules against that very thing, along the lines of judges not judging pupils, OOPS–did I mention that one? So, either work to change it and make it less sloppy, or just accept that quite a few results will either be wrong, or at least seem odd. Donald MacLeod used to say with tongue in cheek, “The only good judge is the one that gives you first.”

  9. At least the Olympic judges weren’t named Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Speedo….et. al.

    Also in these Olympic venues there are 6-10 judges and the highest and lowest scores are dropped.

    Andrew, will we be seeing a statistical evaluation of the Worlds judging for 2008?

    PS I must admit I have become a big fan of women’s beach volleyball. And there’s nothing subjecitve about it!!


  10. For the most part, I agree with your points. It is true that sometimes score sheets can be hard to decipher. For this reason, I have tried to make it a point to hang around the REGISTRATION tent after massed bands and generally have enjoyed the questions/conversations posed by competitors. I agree the beer tent is not a good place to hang out. The only exception to that self imposed rule is the Montreal beer tent for obvious reasons…:>)
    On another note, the Olympics allows major international federations to run their own contests, such as in gymnastics and diving where subjectivity plays a part in the final result. If one “regional” association insisted on making all the calls on judge selection and grading at an Olympic (or World Champion) event, I think they would be laughed out of the room.

  11. Aggressive, abusive and confronting behaviour towards a judge and/or anyone in this community cannot be tolerated or excused. However, the laws of average state that there will be a minority who insist on being idiots and tossing their tricycles into the bushes. It is childish, unjustifiable, and sometimes fuelled by delusional beliefs about one’s ability, not just booze.

    There are stories about this sort of thing almost every year, this year being no exception, and Andrew Berthoff (‘The Hoff’) is spot on – no-one wins.

    Meanwhile, the class acts just get on with it.

    On the other hand, for example, judging a band that you assist, and that pays you for that assistance, is always going to look bad to those who want it to look bad. This is completely separate to the issue of how impartial that judge may actually be. Perception is the mother of all subjectivity, and leaving oneself open to such speculation and innuendo is not wise at all. To then venture into the same watering hole as those you judged is to invite disaster, especially if the personalities involved are already known to you. Sad but true. Enough said there.

    Is there some sort of requirement to declare one’s interests when selected for the worlds panel and, if so, how thorough is this approach? I’d suggest not very if this issue flares up regularly. Where is the due diligence from the governing body when they appear to be so serious and heavy-handed in other areas e.g. overriding gradings by other associations…..?

    The real question: will any lessons be learnt?

  12. As a physician in America, when I give a lecture I’m required to announce and declare all of my potential conflicts of interest, e.g. travel expenses, research grants, equipment donations, etc. It’s been this way for over a decade and it’s just second nature for all of us. I guess that is reflected in my attitude towards that part of the judging “issue”. In America, they’re refered to as “sunshine” laws or ordnances. It comes from the adage that “a little sunshine is the best disinfectant”.

    My band, has always sought out the comments and insights of those judging us. You can always learn something from everyone. Just remember that it may not be the “lesson” you were seeking! Piping is such a small “community”. If we beat up on each other there won’t be anyone left to turn out the lights!


  13. I have–on several occassions–socialized with judges after competitions. Regardless of the outcome of a competition, our community is small; indeed, I have been judged by individuals I have competed against in that very same year! In North America–where judges are often fellow active players from other jurisdictions–it is almost impossible for players who have been around the game to NOT know a given adjudicator, at least on some level. I think it is all about perspective; if one cannot take the comments made by a judge in good stride, one will–most-likely–fail to improve.

  14. maybe the judges in question should not have goaded about the results that they gave to members or certain pipe bands. it really is disgraceful, unprofessional and sneaky. a disgrace to the rspba. where is the world pipe band association? we need one.

  15. I bring my laptop to many of the contests my band goes to, and I transcribe the scoresheets into something legible when I get back to the hotel. It kinda gives one an interesting exposure and insight into a judge’s style if you get them for multiple contests.

    It also makes me wish that judges had laptops or tablets to write the adjudication critiques with. Of course, they probably wouldn’t be able to move around the circle as much (God forbid!) but it could really help illuminate what they are trying to convey.

    As for socializing, I don’t see judges in a post-contest beer tent as much of a problem as hotheads who run their mouths at them. People who get that worked up over a BAGPIPE CONTEST really need to sit down and re-examine their priorities.



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