Wayne Channon: Asking for a More Transparent and Objective System of Judging

Wed, 10/09/2013 - 14:34

It is wonderful to see that Stephen Clarke, Dressage Judge General, is prepared to publicly discuss the issues I raised in my critique of the 2013 European Championships (ECH). This can only be good for the sport.

My main observation is that Stephen went to great lengths to defend the aberrant score from one judge. The point I think we can all agree on is that the judge’s integrity and experience are not in question but that his interpretation of the ride was, simply, much too different from the other judges. So, his integrity, his diligence, his training and, most importantly, the system failed him. If this were the first time that it had happened, I would have said little except for the English “tut tut”. However, one can point to many examples where this happens at normal shows and championships.

I have only a few comments to make in return and will stick to the essential arguments he presents:

  • I used a lower score from one judge at the recent European Championships to further my personal feelings on "altering the judging system"

    What I actually did was to show that the current system of judging is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose in the 21st Century. It is not transparent and is far too open to personal interpretation. The lowest scoring judge may have been correct - but neither he nor we have any way of proving it. I have no strong views on what the final solution should be.

  • "seven judges with their scores averaged, produces the fairest score possible for each rider"

    Really Stephen? The average of the other 6 judges had GBR in gold place. 1 additional judge was so far away from the other 6 that GBR fell to bronze. Do we need 8 or 10 to truly dilute the affect of any one judge? Where does this “more judges” solution stop? At some point spectators need to be able to actually see the test and 7 is already too intrusive.

    The current system of pigeonholing is the problem. If judges put the rider in the wrong hole then we have a major difference between the judges. If pigeonholing were not necessary (via a more accurate system) then this numbers solution would disappear.

  • "if you don't like being judged, don't do dressage"

    I sincerely hope that this is not meant to be presented as a serious argument in favour of the current system. Rephrasing it "if you don't like the way we judge you, don't do dressage".

    I don't know any rider who does dressage because of the way we are judged. We do dressage because we love training and riding beautiful horses. We love to show what we have achieved. We put up with the current system of judging because it is all that is available. We would very much like to have a more accurate system that cannot be abused, that is transparent and openly fair.

  • "'Every judge, in every competition, will probably make one or two mistakes, but when they do they will be saved by the scoring of their colleagues.' With seven judges presiding, this makes his statement even more valid."

    As I have already shown, at the European Championships, this simply was not true. We have gone from 5 to 7 judges in the hope that we can average out the effect of any one judge. It hasn't worked at the very highest level of competition and at the most critical time. We must stop applying Band-Aids to problems and put our combined wit together and come-up with a solution that is fit for the job. Katrina Wüst has done this for the Degree of Difficulty; we need to do this for the technical tests.

  • "we can only improve standards through open discussion and education"

    I agree. I very much welcome and applaud Stephen's willingness to do this with riders and trainers. Despite the protests from our 5* judges, our top judges (not only 5*s but many of the other levels) are very well educated in our current system. If our system is so complicated that even the top 25 judges in the world are unable to get it right at a championship, we need to acknowledge that we need to change the system and simplify the judging tasks.

    By and large, judges’ training consists of senior judges telling everyone else what mark they should give for the horse they have just seen. It does not explain how the mark is arrived at with any kind of clarity, nor how that mark should change depending on Grade of Execution on a different day. It is not a Code of Points in the sense that there is a clear method of deducting marks for different Grades of Execution.

I do take exception with the suggestion that I should spend my time dreaming of ways to raise money for judges' training. Is Stephen seriously suggesting that I should drop my role as the IDRC Secretary General, where I have the responsibility to represent the interests of dressage riders and to promote the interests and image of the sport at the highest levels, and move on to fundraising for judges? I am hoping this was a fatuous, flippant remark and does not demonstrate a disregard for the need for riders to have effective representation.

If I were a judge, I really would not want the current system. It is difficult to be consistently and transparently accurate when using it and the judges end-up having to defend their performance when they are not the ones at fault!

Judges don’t own the problem, it is not their system – it is our system. We all have the responsibility to come-up with a solution. All I ask is that we work together towards a common goal. It will be hard for all of us but the reward from the effort of developing a Code of Points will be that riders have greater clarity on their performance and the judges will have the ability to be more accurate. It must be good for all the actors in this drama.

-- by Wayne Channon

Related Links
Stephen Clarke: Reflections on Channon's Editorial on the Judging at the Europeans
Wayne Channon: Judging Has to Move into the 21st Century