Should referees be treated this way?


A few days ago an "incident" occurred in the armwrestling world. At the Polish Armwrestling Cup, an armwrestler who was dissatisfied with a call hit a referee. He was immediately disqualified, but that did not stop his temper: he wanted to fight the referee and waited for him outside by the doors, shouting expletives.

WAF Head Referee, Leonard Harkless, has commented on this situation:

"The federation would need to discipline the athlete and should do so. That is beyond anything that I have seen in the past and should not be allowed to go unchecked" - Leonard Harkless.

It was a mater of time, I knew that Polish Armwrestling Federation will react accordingly, and it will be an example and serve as a caution for others. The last thing armwrestling needs is hooliganism, like sometimes occurs in football / soccer. Yesterday on October 10th, 2018, the athlete has been suspended for one year (starting from October 7th, 2018).

Nothing New

This was not the first time something like this has happened in our sport. Referees have previously been attacked by pullers who did not agree with a call.

A few years ago, at the A1 Russian OPEN, a referee who was trying to stop two fighting athletes (they were still in the strap) was hit by one of them.

At EuroARM in Moscow in 2010, a Polish referee was beaten at the conclusion of the event by a Russian athlete who disagreed with a decision. 

Even all the way back to 1976 at the World’s Wristwrestling Championship in Petaluma, a puller charged the referee and had to be restrained by three police officers.

Verbal attacks are not rare. Female referees have been called "bitches". Yes, I’ve been told by a female referee with over a decade of experience in this sport, that many times in her career she’s been called a bitch by pullers who disagreed with her calls.

These situations have occurred in many different countries, over several decades. I bet there are many more stories like these, but who cares – they are "just referees". The pullers are the stars of this sport, and they get all of the attention. But referees? No one cares. If these things happen, nothing is ever really done.

Being a referee in armwrestling is a very thankless job. Media almost never talks about them, because all of the attention is on the athletes (mostly men in the heavyweight division). If referees are mentioned, it is usually to critique them for missing calls. 

On social media there is an almost never-ending stream of comments where people express dissatisfaction for referee decisions...  It's easy to analyze a match when watching it after the event, when you have the time and the possibility to watch it several times, but referees may only have a second or two during the match to react and interpret the situation in accordance with the rules. They do their job as professionally as possible, often at a very high level, but as a human they are not infallible – they make mistakes like everyone else. 

Referees don't make the rules (apart from those who lobby for rule changes), they officiate according to them. So, if you are not happy with the rules, talk / complain to the event organizer, or to those who are lobbying for changes: don’t complain to the referees.

In armwrestling most events last 10+ hours, so for the referees it's a very long and intense day. Standing, they often have to referee on the stage in positions that aren’t particularly comfortable, so that, for example, the viewer or the camera is not blocked. But pullers, even during their weight classes, or super-matches, have breaks. They can, for example, sit and rest. Referee, however, are not typically afforded this luxury.

At EuroARM or the WAF World referees work for accommodation in a double room with breakfast included. They must pay all of their other expenses (including flights) out of pocket.

For many years, referees have been giving so much, and receiving very little. To be a referee in arm-wrestling you must either be mentally sick, or LOVE THE SPORT SO MUCH, THAT YOU TOLERATE THE BEHAVIOR OF THE OTHER MEMBERS OF ARMWRESTLING FAMILY. One word comes to my mind: dedication!


Tomasz Wisniowski, Part of the armwrestling family.