Judges are worth your money

By Eliisa Keskinen

Organizing judges for any tournament event is vital for their success, and one should very carefully mind the varying quality of the judges they hire. I have never seen any tournament marketing that they have this or that judge working for them, like one would market an event’s instructors. I know many fencers who avoid certain tournaments because they know that the judging is unacceptable. If you are organizing a tournament, judges is key; only the venue is more important to your success.

It seems many organizers start to think about judges late in the organization process, after they have settled on how many participants they can handle and such. However, when deciding the size of a tournament, figuring out how many competent judges you can afford to spread across the arenas should be one of the primary factor in deciding how many people you will accept into a tournament.

Personally I have volunteered to judge in events I am competing in, paying full fees for entry and travel while doing so. However, nowadays I focus so much on my own competitions that I don’t wish to do it, and small discounts for judges does very little to mitigate that. I want to focus fully on my own competition effort,  and spending focus and energy on judging would hurt that. Add the fact the reward is often but harsh critique and spite, and judging in events where you pay and participate looks very unattractive.

I think a better method for high-quality events is to handpick seasoned judges, known for their reliability and good calls, and even more importantly they should be compensating these key judges for their efforts. If someone is coming to an event to spend long hours judging and staffing why should they be the ones who are also covering the cost of the event? Let those who only participate bear the financial burden for those who spend their free time event after event working the most thankless job in HEMA. Of course you probably need to fill in numbers with untested or less experienced judges, but organizers should not be afraid to spend on key personnel: even one very reliable judge per mat makes a huge difference in overall judging quality, and two seasoned judges can easily carry a third who is unexperienced.

It is possible to train judges so they perform better, but if someone does badly event after event and doesn’t improve regardless of training, it is better that that person does not judge at all. Avoid social or political reasons: even if someone is your best friend, or a big name in the HEMA scene, they are not necessarily a good judge. You can assign these people other tasks, such as working in tournament management or secretariat. Bad judging will tarnish the reputation of your tournament, and make for a worse experience for all.

At Helsinki Open Longsword 2014 we had 7 judges and 2 referees for one ring. Five of these were experienced staff travelling from abroad. This was made possible by us paying their expenses. For any events beyond the very small ones, flight tickets for judges is not going to increase the price of the event significantly, and at this point in the community people are often happy to volunteer if they get their travelling, lodging and food covered. If there is more than one competition in tournament, you can also ask if judge wants to participant in other one free of charge and judge in other. That is a decent deal if you cannot fully cover their travel expenses; they’re not getting paid, but at least they are not paying to work.

Organizing a good tournament is not an incredibly difficult undertaking. Have good judges and reliable staff, and you will get more participants and a good reputation. As an organizer always remember that it is you who needs the judges, and not the other way around. Never expect judges to just knock on to your door, you need to ask them to come.

Photo by Antti Kuparinen


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