From "Powerlifter Today" on May/June 2015 Issue

There are currently over 20 active powerlifting organizations in the United States. Despite a variance in rules that may exist when comparing each organization, Powerliftingwatch.com takes a holistic approach in reviewing meet results submitted from each organization allowing them to compile a database of performances. This database is the backend for the Powerlifting Watch Rankings as well as the All-Time World Records and American Records. These lists are a way for lifters to see how they stack up against lifters from other organizations. Although this is an interesting and “fun” way to look at things, it is also very controversial. 

Currently, everything is available through the Internet. Since owning a cellphone has become a necessity and virtually all cell phones nowadays have video cameras, the process of sharing media online has become quite easy. A lifter goes to a meet, executes their lift (as it gets recorded by one of their friends cellphones) and before the meet even concludes the video of their “World Record” attempt is on social media followed by Powerlifting Watch. 

Other lifters, powerlifting fans, and judges from varying organizations comment on these videos. Some videos are of poor quality and may be filmed from deceiving angles. More often than not the videos show blatant rule infractions. Lifters are often attacked for this. The lifters job is to execute the lift. But whom should the blame actually fall upon? All the lifter did was execute the movement. The judge’s responsibility is to enforce the rules according to the federation’s rulebook. This begs the question, “Who should we blame for erroneous lift: the lifters or the judges?” I think the more important question is, “How does someone become a judge?” 

In a quest to answer that question I contacted presidents and executive committee members from a number of different organizations, current and former judges and read through a number of different rulebooks. Ultimately I found no consistency or commonality with respect to the process of credentialing powerlifting referees. In some organizations it’s quite simple. All you need to do is go on their website and take a 11-150 question exam from the comfort of your own home. Score anywhere from 80%-90% (depending on what the organization requires for a passing grade), send in a small fee for “processing” and you’re good to go for up to three years. Sadly, this was the case for a number of the powerlifting organizations currently active in the USA. One organization in particular even found a way to expedite this process and in doing so had their advertisement read like an infomercial on late night TV. This is how it read… 

“The online referee exam is now available to those who wish to become certified referees. Study guide/Rulebook is also available. The exam instantly grades you as soon as you complete it and a minimum score of 90% must be achieved. Exam is approximately 150 questions. You need to register online and get a username and password assigned. Once you do that just log in and use the keyword referee to gain entrance to start taking the exam (enrollment key is strength). No other federation offers this service. No longer will lifters have to wait until exams are manually graded. Good luck to those taking the exam”. 

The criterion that must be met in some other organizations is not so simple. One example would be the USAPL. 

Although the USAPL State Referee exam is an open book, 50-question (T/F, multiple choice, fill in the blank, and listing) exam some questions have as many as 10-12 answers. This exam takes 90-120 minutes to complete. A 90% grade is required then you can sit for your practical whereby you must sit next to an official and offer your perspective on 100 lifts (40 SQ, 30 BP, 30DL). Again a 90% is required to pass. (Gary). 

You need to be a USAPL State Referee for a minimum of two years, refereed at a minimum of six meets, and function as a chief referee before you can sit for the USAPL National Referee test which is closed book. (Steinman) 

The USPA process is similar to the USAPL. In the USPA you are required to take an open book written test consisting of 100 true/false questions requiring a passing score of 90%. Once passed, you will need to sit for a practical test with a National or International Referee that will observe and grade your calls. The judge grading you will make the official call but ask you for your call before he or she flips their switch. They will then circle on a practical test A for agree or D for Disagree on any judging. You will need to achieve 90% on your practical as well. 

To move from a State level to National level judge you need to have judged 8 meets and 32 flights in over a 2-year period. To move from National to International you need to have judged for 4 years as a National referee and judged 75 flights in that time. (Dension) 

A handful of other organizations claim to require a practical exam in addition to their written exam. Apparently there is a lot of gray area and the website’s description is quite vague making one wonder if they follow their own process. After having discussions with a number of people who have judged in a variety of these organizations the consensus was that they only had to take a written exam. Some didn’t even have to take an exam and were “grandfathered in “ based on their judging experience in other organizations along with their competitive experience. 

The next question that must be asked is, “how do organizations monitor the performance of their judges?” 

One president in particular had this to say about the way things are handled in his organization… 

“In the event of a bad call being made or series of bad calls (after the fact) our Technical Committee Chairman is contacted and from him an email goes out to the judge who may have made the questionable call. If there happens to be a inconsistency or bad calls being made at a particular event our referee Chairman would have a meeting with all those judges to cover the issues.” (Dension, USPA/IPL)

Dr. Marilia Coutinho had this to add, “Of all the organizations I have been involved with, the one that has the most objective approach is the International Powerlifting League (IPL) : I believe the term "strictness" is not accurate. What Alan Aerts (Technical Committee Chairman) always emphasizes is the need for consistency. The objective of the IPL is that the lifter feels he is judged exactly by the same criteria anywhere he is lifting under our sanction. At every meet, the referees have a meeting with further instructions from Alan. We are all under permanent supervision from the more experienced referees. That's how I believe consistency is built.” 

Joe Smolinsky who currently holds a judges card in the APF/WPC, USPA/IPL and has been on the platform for the last few National and World events in the RPS described how he handles things. “I always have a premeet huddle with the referees, then try to pull everyone together after each lift (e.g. SQ/BP/DL) to discuss lessons learned and minor issues if they occur”.

Other major sports like track and field, soccer, baseball, football, and basketball require more than a short test to become a referee. 

In United States Track and Field (USATF) there is a 5 level path that referees much follow after taking a written test and series of designated courses. The first level starts with “Apprentice” and each level takes on more responsibility. Upgrade requirements include additional testing, training courses, and letters of recommendation along with a minimum number of officiated meets. Recertification requirements also exist. 

According to the United States Soccer Federation in order to be eligible to be a certified assistant referee you must be a Grade 12 referee. It's a 7.5 hour course and you must have played at least three years of adult, college or competitive youth soccer or officiated at least three years as a Recreational Referee Grade 9 to be eligible for this certification. The Grade 9 Recreational Referee clinic is a one-day, 8-hour class that certifies you to ref recreational games with players under age 14 and to be an assistant referee for any games with players under age 14. For games of any higher level, you must be a Grade 8 referee. The Grade 8 Entry Level Referee clinic consists of six 3-hour sessions usually spread out over a period of three weeks. Grade 8 referees can referee any matches, but usually will work youth games (under 19). 

Is it coincidental that the organizations requiring only a short open book test plus processing fee are the ones where lifts get questioned the most? Are these the same organizations that have no formal system set up which monitor the performance of their judges? Is a 30-150 question true/false (yes/no) fill in the blank open book test enough to give an individual the power to have a direct impact on the entire history of the sport of powerlifting? You be the judge.