Sociohistorical Construction of Officiating and Officiating Research

“Villains by Necessity”1 - A Brief Evolution of Sports Officials

Our ability to know how something “comes to be” depends highly on time, place, and resources. Historically, our understanding of sport and its evolution was limited by both the method of record keeping (e.g., oral and written histories) and the value attached to the “thing” at the time. Such is the case for understanding the social and historical evolution of the sports official. Their value is evident from the clues we can glean from exploring the development of sport.

The following section provides a brief primer on how sport officials, sometimes viewed as “villains by necessity”, came to be part of the modern sport landscape, as well as why they may have taken on the personae they have. The chapter discussion then shifts to providing a timeline and description of evolving research on officials in sports sciences, identifying trends, and topics of scholarly research about officials’ participation, performance, and development.

Historical Origins of Sport and Its Evolution

Numerous ancient cultures had forms of sport and physical activity, such as Sumer, Egypt, Rome, Mesoamerican, and Greece (Crowther, 2007, MacAuley, 1994). However, the Greek or Panhellenic games (e.g., Delphi, Nemea, Isthmia, and Olympia) differed from other ancient activities by holding organized games such as those at Delphi, Nemea, Isthmia, and, most famously, Olympia (MacAuley, 1994). It is this element of organization that lends itself to imposing rules, which allows for the emergence of what we would eventually understand as officiating. However, much like current trends, we know more about the athletes than other participants involved in sport.

As Barney (2004) noted, having someone other than athletes regulating competition is not new. Historical records identify Hellanodikai (Hellanodikas singular) as judges or major officials at the abovementioned Panhellenic games. The Hellanodikai, drawn from elites of Greek

Sociocultural History of Officiating 9 society, oversaw the training of athletes prior to competition, determined eligibility and age-class as well as “winners, monitored cheating, and punished those caught violating the rules”. In the latter instance, the Hellanodikai were assisted by Alytarchai, who was a leader of the local police force, as well as Rabdouchoi and Mastigophoroi who meted out physical punishment with rods (Golden, 2004). The “officiating” role was embedded in the Panhellenic games dating 580BCE; however, you can see similarities with contemporary officiating crews.

The Panhellenic games influenced Roman culture to a certain degree, as the ancient Olympic games were held in Rome after 80 BCE. Unfortunately, the Games ended in 393 CE, after Christian Emperor Theodosius ordered all pagan-related activities stopped. This edict aligned with Christian beliefs that denounced veneration of the body, as such activities were considered pagan in nature. This move signaled what is historically referred to as the “Dark Ages” (or early Middle Ages), a period where physical activity, especially organized events, was discouraged by the Church (MacAuley, 1994; Ziegler, 2006).

In totality, the Middle Ages (circa 500 CE until approximately 1500 CE) represented a period of heavy religious influence that negated much physical activity outside of that associated with labor (Guttmann, 2000) or was designed for military training under feudal obligation and in the service of the Church (Van Dalen, 2006). Despite proscriptions on sport and games by the Church, such activities continued throughout this time period. Such activities were divided along class lines, with the aristocracy engaging in sports like hunting, archery, fencing, and jousting. Non-aristocracy had game such as folk football (Dunning, 1990). Control of such activities also divided along “class lines” with peasant games highly unregulated, while aristocratic events (e.g., tournaments) were governed by a chivalric code that precluded rule breaking (Olivova, 1981). In the case of this latter group, regulation tended to be self-imposed. This code, which emphasized appropriate behavior, would permeate sport and physical activity during subsequent eras such as the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries) and the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries) (Guttmann, 2000).

Most sports during the Renaissance shifted from “force to finesse” with an increased emphasis on etiquette and propriety (Guttmann, 2000, p. 248). While more evident in the activities of nobility, a similar shift emerged in the sports of commoners. During this period, sports were “more carefully regulated...and much more civilized” than previous periods (Guttmann, 2000, p. 249). The move to regulation continued in the Enlightenment, especially in England, as the development of rules (codification) took hold. For example, the first boxing rules were introduced in 1743. Similarly, the first formalized and recorded cricket rules were created in 1747 (Guttmann, 2000). While there is no evidence of a boxing referee (Standen, 2008), the first set of cricket laws clearly identify an umpire and their responsibilities (Malcolm, 2002). Despite this evidence, history reveals little of the role of sports officials until the 19th century and the emergence of widespread organized sport.

While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to give a full accounting of the evolution of sport, and specifically officiating, it is important to identify three (3) key factors that changed sport irrevocably - industrialization, modernization, and rationalization. While other factors are also significant in the evolution of modern sport (e.g., British public schools), three particular factors transcend political boundaries. Industrialization, which started in Britain in the late 1700s, involved advancements in manufacturing and had implications for transportation and communication, technology, and leisure time. Industrialization also affected the growth of modern sport in several ways. First, advances in transportation allowed for competition between communities and communication developments allowed for those communities to connect to establish those competitions. Technological advances allowed for the improvement in equipment, as well as artificial lighting. The latter enabled alterations in the work day and led to the development of leisure time (i.e., time away from work). Technological changes were also evident in the sharing of information (e.g., newspapers). The rise of modern sport was a consequence of industrialization (Gutt-mann, 2000; Vamplew, 2016), whereas global industrialization modernized societies. For sport, this process involved transforming a relatively simple activity that may resemble other games to a more “complex, distinct, and civilized” organized activity (Dunning Sc Sheard, 1979, p. 86). Written rules are a prerequisite for this process, and with such rules came the necessity for a “third party” to administer them (Dunning Sc Sheard, 1979). This complexity and standardization of rules reflect elements of what Guttmann (1978) identified as the key attributes of modern sport.

In a critical analysis of the evolution of sport, Guttmann ascribed seven (7) characteristics to what we now recognize as sport. These include secularism (non-religious), equality (i.e., opportunity in competing), specialization (e.g., one-sport athlete with support), rationalization (i.e., implementation of broadly accepted rules), bureaucracy (i.e., governance), quantification (e.g., time, distance, scores), and records (e.g., four-minute mile). Of these characteristics, one is critical for the developing role of the sports official - rationalization. As Guttmann (1978) noted, "... there must be rules of competition ... simply because sports are by definition games, i.e., organized, rule-bound” (p. 40). By the late 1800s, modern sports with its bureaucracy and rules were widespread. The emergence of the sports official was also evident during this period. This was a sports role both embedded in the modern sport system and a “victim” of that modernization process. Increased complexity of sports demanded an arbiter of the rules. However, by the very nature of those rules, they were perceived as “outsiders” (Leslie, 1998). This position in relationship to sport would further transform as sport changed.

Until early 20th century, sport was a means for an individual to participate to the best of one’s abilities, to play within an honor code based in trust and fairness, and to build character. This latter element was meant for the participant and those watching. Rules were, for the most part, more about regulating the mechanisms of play (e.g., size of space, equipment). However, with the growth of commercialism and the rise of professional and semi-professional sports, winning became the primary outcome. With this transformation came the need for more prescriptive rules about not only play but also behavior (Cashmore, 2005). The transformation of sport away from an honor-bound pastime to a highly commercialized and professionalized undertaking (at all levels) has significantly affected the role of the official. Today, most officials fulfil the role of “outsider”. According to Elias and Scotson (1965), the outsider exists in a relationship with the “established” based on a power relation. Established groups (e.g., athletes, coaches) are readily identifiable, demonstrate more intra-group cohesion, have well-established networks, and exercise significant power within their sport. Officials, in contrast, stand on the edge of sport (literally and figuratively in many cases), part of the action, but are arguably never really wholly accepted as part of the group. Officials understand the context and the general participation goals and interests of other participants, but historically have been rarely, if ever, treated as participants themselves. As Mennell (1992) noted, “...outsiders identify with and understand the established better than the established do the outsiders” (as cited in Liston, 2005, p. 27).

This isolation of officials also bears out in other ways. As Nosal (2015) noted, there are fewer officials than players, so it’s easier to focus on them and lay blame for poor performance at their feet. Expectation for error-less performance in sport officials’ performance carries much weight compared to their athletic counterparts (Simmons & Cunningham, 2013) where error is something more accepted and normalized part of skill development. As noted above, officials often operate outside and around the physical context of the activity, and their very appearance sets them visually apart (e.g., striped or colored shirts). Officials are often one of the few, if not the only ones, who truly understand the rules but are subjected to multiple interpretations by those who play, coach, and watch. Additionally, their very decisions put them in the middle as they render decisions for one side/player versus the other. This marginalization, or outsider perspective of officials, also permeated the sport research landscape until more recently, as the next section will further illuminate and address. Questions remain about ways social identities are developed and preserved in the larger society, and ways this social perception act on officials’ self-perception and social identity, including the implications this has for recruitment, development, and retention.

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