The Eighth Man

Bludger Referees: A Call to Arms

At the IQA Olympic Exhibition, bludger referees were at the top of their game. Credit: Dana D’Amico

This year, the IQA took a large step forward in improving quidditch through the creation of the Referee Development Program.  Potential head referees now have to pass a written test and a field exam in order to become certified IQA head referees.


As an added bonus for talented referees, for the first time in the IQA’s history, they will be compensated financially for each game that they officiate.  These unprecedented developments are certainly great for the advancement of officiating.  However, amidst the rush to improve head refereeing, the need to properly develop and certify assistant referees, specifically bludger referees, is being placed on the backburner.


In general, the quidditch community continues to hold the view that anyone can fill the role of a bludger referee, which is a notion that could not be further from the truth.  As seen in other sports, the duties and responsibilities of assistant referees have evolved throughout the years, and quidditch is following that same pattern. In a sport that is experiencing increased athleticism along with an evolving rulebook, more attention must be focused on training high-quality bludger referees.

Those who have been with the sport since its inception can attest to the fact that bludger referees were never even considered in the early days.


“At the first World Cup, which was essentially an intramural tournament at Middlebury with a team from Vassar, there was only a head referee and two goal referees,” IQA CEO Alex Benepe said. “In retrospect, how they managed to pay attention to the quaffle, bludgers and snitch at the same time … I’m not sure.”


Bludger referees would not surface in the rulebook for several more years.


“In Rulebook 3.0, there is no mention of bludger referees,” IQA Director of Gameplay Will Hack said. “It seems like players were expected to police their own knock outs, but if they did not, the head referee or a goal referee could call a foul.”


But eventually, the IQA saw the large value in adding an official that regulated bludger play. World Cup IV, which took place in New York City in 2010 and featured 46 teams and more than 750 players, was the first major tournament to use the bludger referee position throughout.


Of course, Quidditch was by no means the first to add assistant referees in an attempt to keep up with competition level of its players and the increasing complexity of the rulebook.  Several sports, including hockey and soccer, did not add assistant referees until their sports became more established.


Bludger referees share many of the same characteristics of assistant referees in these sports: they all have limited use of a whistle, or none at all, and they assist the “head” referee with fouls and misconduct.  But, unlike current bludger referees, assistant referees in these sports go through rigorous training to master the position and are held in much higher regard in the sports they officiate than bludger referees are in quidditch.


For assistant referees in soccer, they must achieve certain grades to participate in different levels of competition.  In hockey, qualified linesman for the upcoming NHL season are listed directly next to the referees in the league’s official rulebook.


To improve gameplay going forward, the IQA realized that attention needed to be focused on developing quality referees.  Following the World Cup in 2011, the IQA created the Referee Development Program (RDP), led by Director Cameron Kim and IQA Head Referee Chris Beesley.  The RDP mission has four parts:


1)    Aid the development of quidditch officials

2)    Provide resources for educating officials to safely control matches

3)    Establish a uniform code of conduct and procedures for quidditch officials

4)    Foster the development of quidditch around the world


To help with this mission, Kim and Beesley interviewed and selected two representatives from each region to help train and certify head referees all over the country, who are known as the Referee Development Team (RDT).  The team has already held certification sessions in 20 locations over the past few months and is scheduling several more in the months to come.  To date, the program has certified over 55 head referees scattered around the country.


Surely, the recent influx of qualified head referees bodes well in ensuring that each IQA official game is headed by a competent official.  But, as stated before, the game is becoming faster and more complex, and more than one skilled referee is needed to properly officiate a match.  Quidditch is unlike any sport and requires certified referees to properly regulate each of the different balls on the pitch.


It’s also important that bludger referees not only know all the rules of beaters, but also the entire rulebook, in order to be able to assist the head referee during a play he missed.


On top of the knowledge necessary for a bludger referee, they need excellent communication abilities on the field to compensate for a lack of whistle.  These skills and more make proper certification a necessity.


In short, the RDT needs to find a way to incentivize people to become trained  bludger referees despite being unable to pay them.  It is possible that bludger referees can be certified and paid in the future, but for now, the problem must be tackled in other ways.


First, the public perception of the bludger refereeing must change.  The position is no longer filled by random players or spectators who only indicate which players are knocked out.  The bludger referee should be thought of as a head referee without a whistle. He or she must know the rulebook back to front, and must be able to communicate with all parties on the field.


By changing the perception of the position, more people may be willing to train to become bludger referees.  The goal would be to create a sense of camaraderie among bludger referees, which hopefully will lead to a desire for increased training.


Secondly, the RDT should create more bludger-specific training material.  Currently, training materials incorporate all of the referee positions in one comprehensive guide.  While this is helpful in most regards, having a guide that specifically focuses on bludger mechanics could certainly do some good.


Third, newly certified IQA head referees should recruit people to be bludger referees on their own referee teams.  By doing this, head referees can help train bludger referees to a higher standard.  Also, by forming a team, head referees can split the wages they receive to incentivize their assistant referees.  Again, a sense of camaraderie is formed and it allows bludger referees to have a greater sense of pride in their job. A referee team with experience together will also be a more coherent and talented unit.


Finally, IQA teams should train their own players to become quality bludger referees.  If teams could assist in training at least two bludger referees – training a team’s beaters is probably the best idea, since they know most, if not all, of the rules pertaining to beaters – the quality would improve across the board.  Team scrimmages serve as the perfect environments to train bludger referees, and such practice should be strongly encouraged.


The road to improving bludger referees is long and arduous.  With the help of teams, the RDT, and certified head referees, a lot can be accomplished until the IQA can one day compensate bludger referees for the challenging work they do.



Update: The previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the RDP as the Referee Development Team. It has since been corrected.



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