Letter to Referees

Dear Referee,
Being an official in Taekwondo is not an easy thing. It seems that everyone always has a problem with the officiating. And while there can always be a grain of truth to any complaint, very few offer a real solution to any of the referees’ problems or even acknowledge the issues’ sources. So here is 20/20 Armor’s take on Taekwondo’s culture with our Refs.

First off, you love our sport. Let us start there. You love Taekwondo so you support it by offering your work at severely less than market rate. Unfortunately though, there is only so far that can take us. It seems for every referee that puts in the passion to execute on a job for very low reward there are 10 tournaments calling for black belts to come volunteer referee over the PA system. As athletes, coaches, parents, and sports organizations, the userbase demands quality in our referees, and we have that right to demand a fair and well executed tournament; but we also have to recognize the Referee’s dilemma.

Officials are in far too high demand. A match between two fighters takes six officials:

  • 4 Corner Judges
  • Center Referee
  • TA

Follow that math out. If I want to run a quality tournament with six rings (meaning all rings running – this usually does not happen), I had better recruit 36 qualified officials. But this does not account for any break at all. So in order to run consistently I have to overshoot this number to account for some referees not being on the floor every minute of the day. With a 10% overage that 36 becomes 40. Let us say they are provided with a $7 lunch and work for 9 hours (8am to 5pm – this is conservative, most go longer) at $10 per hour.
That’s… (40 * $7) + (40 * 9hr * $10/hr) = $3,880
Now let’s say I charge $75 entry for my tournament. In order to pay for the referees alone, I have to attract 52 more competitors. Out of my 200 – 300 participant tournament (average) this is a huge expenditure. But this is even just for local referees, not nationally experienced or International Referees, which tournaments use to try and attract more participation. Most parts of the world do not have 36 highly experienced referees at close arm’s length. So in order to attract them I had better offer them some kind of accommodation and stipend towards their travel costs. And what happens if I do not want to pay these costs and take on this burden? I have a poorly executed event with half my rings operating understaffed with low talent, relying on charity and goodwill to provide free labor. This is plainly not a great formula.
Enter 20/20 Armor.
One of the core missions of 20/20 Armor is to make Taekwondo into a professionalized sport, and this includes our officials. With 20/20 Armor, only 2 officials are required for a match. Because the system is based on scoring proportionally to the impact of each hit, the Corner Judges are no longer required to score points, even for punches and head kicks. This removes ⅔ of the referee cost, meaning that my same tournament can fully function on 12 referees rather than the previous whopping quota of 36 (which most tournaments do not successfully fulfill).

So what does this mean for the referees themselves? Well, it means that referee compensation is able to increase. Tournaments will have better resources available to vie for referee talent. This opens up the door for professionalized highly skilled league referees that can make officiating Taekwondo their primary means of income. So let’s try the math again, but this time, let’s double the salary and say that Referees make $20/hr, and are catered a $20 meal. Assuming 10% overage again, we’ll need 14 Referees to make my 6 ring tournament run smoothly.
That’s… (14 * $20) + (14 * 9hr * $20/hr) = $2,800
So I have actually lowered my costs by $1,080, had to make arrangements for 14 rather than 40 (notice we didn’t take accommodation or travel costs into account in our math, so that gets even better) and my tournament is better run than ever. This translates into 15 fewer entry fees having to go towards referee costs.

For athletes and coaches, it means that unskilled referees cannot hide in the crowd of officials of a match. Even the difference between 6 skilled officials in a ring and 5 skilled officials and 1 unskilled can result in a match being awarded to the wrong player. This is the next step in the removal of human error and bias in the sport.

It also means that the job of officiating is far more focused. 20/20 Armor takes over the burden entirely for determining a valid scoring technique and measuring it, something no other PSS has ever done, so the referee can focus solely on rule infractions. This leads to more effective training and more consistently applied interpretations of the rules across the board. Even in the remaining area of referee control, 20/20 Armor’s Energy Scoring has distilled the variety of Taekwondo infractions into three simple and universally appreciated categories and their associated penalties:

  • Improper Attack
  • Delay of Game
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct

This means only 3 hand signals, but better yet 3 overarching concepts that guide the referee to promoting the flow of the match and administering penalties properly by the effect the infraction has on the match rather than penalizing enumerated actions by rote. Here is an example:
Chung grabs Hong’s hogu and clinches.
Chung grabs Hong’s hogu and pulls Hong into a head kick.
The current system would call both of these holding, and except for annulling any illegally obtained points, would typically ignore the effect the infraction had on the other player. But under Energy Scoring, these two very different effects would be treated as different categories. Holding in the clinch is Delay of Game and typically addressed with a minor penalty while Improper Attack is usually addressed with a major penalty (think punching the face, attacking from a fallen position or attacking a fallen opponent).

These effects combined make the Referee’s role more transparent and effective than ever by promoting the fairness and removal of bias that Taekwondo has endeavored to apply to its matches, at the same time making referees more valuable and compensable than they have ever been.
Welcome to the New Era of Taekwondo!
William Sexton,
Founder & COO
20/20 Armor