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The refereeing system for Short Track Speed Skating has had an overhaul this season, producing a clearer set of guidelines, introducing a new video reviewing process and announcing the awarded penalty via the announcer and new TV graphics.

isu wc short track torino 2019 replay graphics

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Replay Graphics 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

The new system was introduced at the first ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating event in Calgary in November 2018, as it continues to evolve it has successfully provided fans, media, spectators and teams with a transparent and clearer overview of the decisions made by the referees. ISU Short Track Speed Skating Technical Committee Chair Nathalie Lambert explains all.

Why is Short Track Speed Skating so hard to referee?

Skaters compete during the ladies 1000 meter semi final heat one during the ISU World Cup Short Track Day 1 (GER) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1126993194

ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (GER) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Athletes are close together and it’s packed with action. That’s what makes the sport spectacular, and we want to encourage passes, but there’s a limit to what you can do, for safety reasons, and to keep it fair. Understanding refereeing decisions has been a problem for spectators, media – and sometimes even for the coaches and athletes, too.

The problems culminated at PyeongChang, where there were several controversies.

Short Track Speed Skating at WOG 2002©AFP 51520489

Short Track Speed Skating at the Winter Olympic Games 2002©AFP

The main issue was that our referees used a separate camera system to review incidents – different to what was being put out by broadcasters. There were calls where the broadcaster showed clips not related to the Referees' call which confused media and spectators.

So it was decided to investigate a new system, in which the host broadcast feed is what the referees use to make their decisions…
Yes. After PyeongChang the ISU investigated cost and feasibility and found a system that was feasible.

How do referees now review penalties?

isu wc short track torino 2019 replay room

Replay Room vs Field of Play 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Since the start of the season, refs have been using footage from the same cameras, angles and feed as the broadcaster. Spectators and TV viewers get to see the sequence and camera angle that the Refs are reviewing or using to make their final decision. This way, what happened in PyeongChang can never happen again. TV producers are seeing what our officials are seeing, the clips are synced, and they can’t broadcast wrong. The clip that goes out is selected by our refs, so it always tells the right story.

Refs are getting better footage, and more angles, too?

ISU referee 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1128872236

ISU Referees 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Yes. Our video referee is now sitting in a “bunker” in the venue, or in an outside broadcast van. They have huge screens with multiple views. Previously they only had three camera angles to look at. Because they’re now working off broadcast footage, they now have seven or eight angles. That gives way more opportunity to see everything. The trick is to find the right clip quickly. We now have specialist refs working on the video. They mark what happens for the chief ref on the ice, and select the best shot to review the action in slow-mo. From there, they issue the decision.

And the crowd, athletes and coaches in the venue now also see the clip of any penalties on the big screen. Presumably this will reduce objections.

ISU Short Track Cube 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1070255106

ISU Short Track Speed Skating 2018©Internationsl Skating Union (ISU)

That’s the intention. It’s hard for athletes and coaches to be 100% objective. But now we see clips that are so clear, you can’t question them. It’s a work in progress, this is new for refs. But they are getting good at selecting the footage. You can’t dispute 99% of the decisions. The crowd understand the penalty better, and so do commentators.

The ISU have also drawn up a clearer set of rules – the Short Track Infringement Language Document. This helps referees think about, and define fouls more clearly, by breaking fouls down into areas, and by infringement.

Referee 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 508885846

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Referee 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Yes. When you replay the clip for the venue and TV, we also add the language from this document which explains what the penalty is. So everyone can understand. When we reviewed this, we listed the main infringements, to give clear guidance to our officials. We wanted to create a language to explain decisions. The visuals back up what has happened.

How have the referees reacted to the new language and codes?

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Referee Room 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1126858543

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Referee Room 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

We thought that biggest change would be for the referees to learn the codes. But we’ve actually found that it has helped them so much. They referee with the codes in their heads, and it’s revolutionized the way they watch races. They are more systematic about where a penalty is happening, and what the infringement is. They like it.

There has also been one further change: when both parties are deemed guilty of a penalty, they cancel each other out.

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Referee 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1126864706

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Referee 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Yes, because we found that often there were different interpretations of fouls, even among our referees. We wanted to standardize it, and we agreed that sometimes you have an infringement where two people are guilty. Previously, we were trying to decide who is guiltier. Now, if we think it’s both skaters, we say it’s a no-call for shared responsibility. We hope this will reduce the number of penalties. It was also taking forever to do the replays, so we hope it’ll reduce time spent on video, too.

How do you see the system evolving in the future?

ISU Referee Room 2019©International Skating Union (ISU) 1126858563

ISU Short Track Speed Skating Referee Room 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

We will keep going with our changes because it’s working very well. We would like the on-ice refs to wear mics and voice the penalties to the crowd. We’ll also work on the language a little, it’s a work in progress. But once we have checked that it makes sense to coaches and broadcasters, we’ll hopefully fix it for the next three years. If we see new infringements, we’ll add to it, but otherwise I think we can surf with it for a while.