Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Boundary of Sport

Aight, kids. Cup is over for another year and here we are. I've got quite a lot to get off my chest and it begins with not having internet access where I was staying in Orlando--but I intend to make up for that.

The boundary of (any) sport is its rulebook and the frontline guardians of sport are the officials. Puts a bit of a twist on things, doesn't it? [If you're not sure what I mean it's this: the rules define what is and isn't part of the play of the game and the refs enforce those rules. It also means the willful failure to play by the rules is disrespecting the game. It also means the refs deserve our respect for their role--but it also means they have to treat their role with respect too. More on this in a minute.]
The place where competitive paintball gets into trouble is accountability. Here's how it shakes out: the players are accountable and nobody else is. If that doesn't sound right to you then pay close attention to this next part. On the field the players are accountable to the rules as enforced by the officials. Off the field they are accountable to sponsors, team management, each other. Failures of enforcement (on and off the field) aren't a lack of accountability. All the power and discretion reside with somebody other than the player.
Here's where the guardians of the sport stuff fits. The refs, the leagues and ownership are the ones responsible for maintaining the integrity of the game and none of them is accountable in any obvious way. The refs owe the game their best most impartial effort. The leagues owe their customers and the game fair oversight of their officials and it's the owners responsibility to see it all happens. Sure, the leagues may say they do their best to put good refs on the field but what does that really mean and can anybody offer up an example of how that works as a practical matter? You and I both know the leagues will almost inevitably back their refs against any accusations and whatever actions might be taken aren't made public. And who holds the owners accountable for their obligation to the game? They're making decisions about everything from format, to rosters, to time, to number of officials, and on and on. Every decision made or unmade can alter the game. How seriously is that responsibility taken?
Now I'm not saying all players are noble and virtuous and all the others are power mad and corrupt. Not at all. What I am saying is both sides need to respect the game, not just the players. In fact the refs, the leagues, the owners need to respect it more keeping in mind that part of their job is to protect the integrity of the game by actually doing the best job possible--not just giving it lip service. Or worse, thinking it's their game to do with as they please. That means that not only their attitude matters but also their competence and personal integrity. It seems like it's fair game to routinely call the players out--and it is when they are in the wrong--but out of line to call out the refs, the leagues or the owners. Or PBIndustry. (Which is frequently the same thing.)
Uncle Ben gave Peter Parker the creed he lives by (C'mon, you may not read Spiderman comix but you've seen the movie) when he told Peter that with great power comes great responsibility and in the realm of competitive paintball ALL the power is held by peeps other than the players. If you accept Uncle Ben's formulation that puts the players, regardless of their behavior, out of the loop and puts ALL the responsibility, in ascending order, on the refs, the leagues, the owners.
My purpose here isn't to suggest anyone indulge in wholesale blaming of refs, leagues and owners now for the perceived ills of the game instead of the usual blame the player. My purpose is to remind those who do have the power that they are indeed responsible for whatever becomes of the game precisely because we have no way to hold them accountable except by refusing to participate. And if they won't hold themselves to a high standard they've no right to expect it from anyone else–and further if it all comes crashing down they will have no one to blame but themselves.


lil' nobody said...

It seems to me that the owners are much more concerned with their teams winning than they are with fair play, unbiased reffing and rule enforcement. This is right where the promoters that banded together to form the PSP wanted to be. Granted Jerry isn't involved with a team anymore and Renick seems not to care how well his team does anymore, but the others obviously want their teams at the top.

Dok said...

I agree that Refs, League Officials and Owners need to be accountable to the quality of their events and in turn the integrity of the game. This however does not release others from maintaining the integrity of the game. All stakeholders are responsible for the integrity of the game, from participants to coordinators. In the perfect world the player does not break the rule and the ref does not make the call. Then no one has issue to complain.

As for making discipline issues with a ref public, this would not serve to benefit the league or the game. Reason being that it will only develop a mindset of incompetence. Negative feedback loops do not promote people to try harder. You know they will not publish all the good calls that are made because no one ever screams loudly when the right call is made. What may be needed is a system that assures the complaintents that the concern is being dealt with but the actual measures should not be published. Think of it from a professional stand point. Discipline issues are taken care of behind closed doors and are not publicized because it would only serve to demoralize the person further.