What makes officiating so special?

It is no secret that track and field competition would not be possible without the invaluable support of volunteer officials throughout the country. From registration to call room, seeding to event officials, referees to starters, there are so many roles and different officials required to make our championships run smoothly.

At our recent England Senior and Para Championships, we caught up with two officials who are at the beginning of their National Championships journey to see why they chose officiating, and what they love most about being involved in our sport. Meet Lewis Makey on Registration and Debashish Biswas, an Athlete Steward!

Registration desk at Senior Championships

Getting into officiating

Despite coming from different event backgrounds, both Deb and Lewis started out as a participant on the roads and track and field respectively.

“I was studying at the University of York and the campus had a track which was convenient,” explained Lewis. “After exams had finished in the summer, I had some extra time and my coach, Karen Buck, asked for some support at a local schools meet, I went along and enjoyed the day. I continued to support at a couple of extra competitions and from there, my coach supported me to get my Officials’ Assistant licence. This got me started on the officiating pathway and I have stuck with it from there!”

Not too different from Lewis, Debashish also comes from a running background.

“I have always been a club runner at my club, Serpentine, and a call went out that they needed support from members for a number of endurance events that they host. The local COfSec was alerted that I had been on the officiating course, and I got invited to support at county matches and races. They then asked whether I would like to try officiating outdoor track and field which I really enjoyed. I have since been invited to support at BUCS and have worked my way through the officiating pathway levels after that.”

What makes officiating so special?

Whether it is the Olympic Games or your local YDL, officials have the best seat in the house, from judging world records to seeing athletes break their personal best.

“I was fortunate enough to be in the call room at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year," explained Lewis, "where my main role was checking that the athletes were ready to go onto the track or field. Being so close to the athletes immediately before they compete was amazing and it was interesting to see how different athletes like to prepare. Some were quite talkative and chatty, some were getting in the zone while others were quite relaxed and caring more about their appearance!"

“I remember back to 2021 when I was lead official at high jump competition at BIGish in Bedford,” added Deb. “There were three female athletes who had cleared 1.90m. One of the jumpers, Levern Spencer, was not very tall, with a similar build to Jessica Ennis-Hill, and she seemed just to hang in the air and float over the bar and I thought… wow! I had been concentrating so hard in directing activities but at that point it struck me quite how high the bar had actually been set. There are no track events at BIGish so everyone –coaches, parents, spectators and athletes from completed events too, including other high jumpers – were gathered around by the barrier on the bend to watch. Seeing such a high-level competition and being a part of that athlete experience was really fun and special.”

Debashish officiating at BIGish

As well as ensuring that competitions can run smoothly, the role of an official is to ensure that the competition is fair for all participants, as Lewis explained:

“I like to feel that I am helping athletes to be their best. I’m sure that athletes don’t always feel like that towards officials, but you are there to help competition be a level playing field which I try to always keep in my mind.”

Deb has first-hand experience of acting fast to make sure that athletes have the perfect competition environment to help them perform.

“As an official, you always have to be willing step in especially if you spot something which doesn’t make it fair. Earlier this week I was on recall and the starter missed a noise which would have meant the start was not completely fair, and so I fired the recall gun. In officiating you will often catch each other’s mistakes which is why there are additional officials, but it is all to ensure that the event is fair and safe for all athletes.”

If you are wondering about getting into officiating whether on a local or national level, here’s why you should!

“There is a fantastic social side amongst the officials. You all share a common interest for the sport and helping athletes,”

Lewis expressed. “If you can, find a mentor who is already an official and can help guide you through the processes and who you can ask questions to. Clubs are a great place to start. If you are already an official and want to help out at higher level competitions, make this known to your peers and try shadowing senior roles.”

“Officiating is always a learning process,” added Deb.

“The higher you go on the pathway, the more there is to learn. There is never a bad question to ask, just a right time to ask it. Try to remember that this is an athlete-driven sport and you are there to support the athletes to thrive but also have fun yourself!

When you are watching track and field specifically, your eyes will be opened to just how much is going on so things run smoothly both behind the scenes and hiding in plain sight than when you initially take look around.”

Start your officiating journey: take a look at our range of courses.

Articles in this series

The Role of a Welfare Officer