Gottfried Schödl, ‘WE NEED MORE COMPETENT REFEREES,’ World Weightlifting, 1975, vol. 3, p. 3

I am currently working on my next book project, this time studying the history of women’s Olympic weightlifting in the United States. Funded, in part, by the Olympic Studies Center, I had the pleasure of studying the International Weightlifting Federation’s minutes and magazines from the 1970s to the present day. Housed in Lausanne, Switzerland, this trip was a highlight of 2022 for me, not least because of some of the historical tidbits I found.

While my research cares about women’s Olympic weightlifting, I couldn’t resist taking a few detours along the way. This post is one such example. Written by IWF president Gottfried Schödl in the IWF’s new magazine, World Weightlifting, in the mid-1970s, the below article highlights a problem then plaguing weightlifting – bad referring.

Contextualizing the Article

At the time of writing, Olympic weightlifting was at a very interesting point in its history. Anabolic steroids were beginning to become a problem among athletes and, as weightlifting was an Olympic sport, the sport suffered from a greater deal of scrutiny than its ‘iron brethren.’ While all three major iron sports at the time (bodybuilding, weightlifting and powerlifting) had seen athletes take steroids to get bigger and stronger, weightlifting was also under the supervision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC, for obvious reasons, wasn’t going to turn a blind eye to steroids in the same way that some did in bodybuilding and powerlifting. Hence weightlifting was under huge pressure to ‘clean up its act.’

Concurrent with this were quite vocal debates about technique. Specifically, what counted as a legitimate lift. This was not unique to weightlifting – powerlifting had, and continues to have, important debates about depth in the squat for example – but weightlifting was unique in outright eliminating a lift from competition. As historian John Fair previously chronicled, Olympic weightlifting used to be composed of three lifts – the clean, the snatch and the military press. During the 1960s, in particular, the form lifters used in the military press became so problematic, a decision was taken to remove the lift altogether in the 1970s.

Turning now, to Schödl’s article, we can situate it in the context of the military press and the criticisms of referees who failed to penalize sloppy form. While the press had been eliminated by the time Schödl wrote this article, concerns remained about the standard of officials in the sport. This was not the first time such criticisms called for an official intervention but I nevertheless found it fascinating given the flux the sport was in. Here we see Schödl recommend the use of official film to educate referees which was groundbreaking for the time.

I think it’s lovely to see that the blind faith in technology to save us all, combined with complaints about sloppy form, have an ongoing history within our sports. Enjoy.

The Article

In our sports activities we have officials who are more in the public view than any others. They are the referees. It is their task to judge the performances of the lifters, to control their movements and eventually to decide whether to recognise the performance or not. The referee has the power to grant success or failure.

In my opinion it is easy in some countries to become a referee according to their criteria. It is much more difficult to show practical ability, because in action the referee has to evidence his perfect knowledge of the rules, his experience and, above all, his objectivity. Objectivity is mainly an inherent characteristic but knowledge of the rules can be obtained by study. That is, provided there are clear and precise rules at his disposal.

For example, our referees were in a great dilemma in deciding the legality of a Press. Unclear rules combined with too large a zone of tolerance eventually led to the abolition of this lift. This decision made the task of our referees easier. Their duties were now less demanding. Yet in spite of this improved situation I am still disturbed because we still have referees at international competitions with small experience and differing interpretations of our rules.

We now have a rule which says “The Technical Committee shall draw up a list of referees who are most competent to referee the important international championships.” In the realisation of this rule we checked many referees by means of a new system at many international competitions in 1973 and 1974. A list of competent referees has been drawn up for future reference.

Another way of improving refereeing is by informing and teaching referees through visual aids. The best visual aid is undoubtedly a film, one made specially for referees. I can inform you that, with the assistance of the Hungarian Federation, such a film is nearing completion.

A committee has been formed for our first referees film consisting of Mr.Bedrich Poula, President of the Technical Committee, Mr. Tamas Ajan, member of the IF Bureau and our General Secretary Oscar State. We have to thank them for the work they have done and will continue to do. It is to be hoped that we shall soon have in our Federation scores of highly qualified referees on the new IF elite list.

2 thoughts on “Gottfried Schödl, ‘WE NEED MORE COMPETENT REFEREES,’ World Weightlifting, 1975, vol. 3, p. 3

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  1. The first (and only) woman weightlifter (in the strict sense of the word) I ever encountered was Sherry Hise, the daughter in law of weightlifting personality Bob Hise II. She was extremely pretty and feminine, and I am sure that she had not taken any steroids or other drugs. This would have been in the mid-1970s. I think she was some years younger than I, so she may still be around. Has she ever turned up in your researches?

    1. Hey Jan, that is a great question. Bizarrely the only mention I have came across of Sherry was Bob Starr’s defying gravity where I’m pretty sure she contributed pictures. Outside of a few contest reports I haven’t seen anything which is incredible isn’t it? You would have thought the connection to Bob would have been worth promoting at some point?!

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