The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) have announced this week that referee crews will in future be officially classed as the third team in roller derby bouts.
WFTDA spokeswomen Andromedary commented: “Our membership felt that this reflects the current state of play.”
“Our referees aim for a high level of quality, uniformity and consistency. But at this point in time we are still a long way from reaching this goal. We can simply no longer pretend that different referee crews are consistent or comparable.”
“They say a good referee is one that you don’t even notice. Unfortunately, many referees are all too noticeable.”
Fool Moon, WFTDA representative of the Derpshire Rollergirls, commented: “As a WFTDA-member league, we strongly support this move. We have found that, when preparing for a bout, it wasn’t enough anymore to just train for the opposing team. We had to invest an equal amount of training time into preparing for different referee styles.”
“Our blockers have to develop walls that work for the opposing team AND for the ref crew. Different jammers have such varied styles. And different ref crews do, too. For example, against some jammers you simply cannot afford to leave gaps in your walls or they will get past you. And with some referee crews you simply cannot use your arms at all for anything, or you will get a penalty.”
“Similarly, our jammers know that against certain teams they can get past by taking risks on the edges, more than against other teams. And we know that with some referee crews, we can take risks at the edge of the engagement zone, more than with others, because some refs just do not know their 20 ft.”
“Where possible, we try to find out the names of the referees in advance and study the way they make calls by watching footage of them. We also try to arrange practice bouts staffed by those or similar refs to prepare us as best as we can.”
“For us, the referees stand between us and winning as much as the opposing team. So it makes sense for them to be classed as a team in their own right.”
Andromedary agreed with these statements: “It often takes referees much longer than players to adapt to this ever-changing game. We saw this happen when passive offence started being used. We hope that by introducing an element of competition into officiating, there will be an incentive for referee individuals and crews to improve.”
Holy Molly, captain of the Fartfordshire Rollergirls, also felt positively about this change: “Officials crews have strengths and weaknesses just like roller derby teams, and we look to learn and exploit these.
For me, the problem is this: if an opposing team has a weak players, then we will probably win against this weaker team. But if a ref crew is weaker, then we might lose because of that.”
“There have been many times where the referee crew had a greater impact on the outcome of a game than the two teams on the track. That’s why they need to be a separate team.”
Andromedary explained the situation further: “This change is really just a continuation of the current state of things. WFTDA tournaments tend to be staffed by several officials crews and they each officiate a portion of the games. The best-performing crew is selected to officiate the final game of the tournament. We do not combine several crews for the final game to create a crew with the best individual refs. We think that the experience of having worked together is needed to create a good crew. We think that teamwork outweighs individual skill – exactly as for roller derby teams.”
This begs the question: What does this say for all the bouts where the referee crew have never previously worked together?
Andromedary explained: “Those will be defined as ‘scratch’ crews or ‘challenge’ crews. They are just officiating for fun. They are ultimately not looking to officiate at a competitive level.”
“The only thing we haven’t figured out yet is how to actually ‘score’ the crews. Because, right now, we have zero honest ways to measure how good a referee crew is and how it compares to another crew.”