Meet England's Commonwealth Games Referee
16th February 2018
When it comes to beach volleyball, England’s men and women’s beach pairs will not be the only ones flying the flag for their country at April’s Commonwealth Games. England’s Greg Thompson has been appointed as an official for the tournament on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Greg’s appointment is the latest landmark moment in his career, which saw him officiate at the London 2012 Olympics, and will see him make history as the first English referee to take charge of beach volleyball at a Commonwealth Games.
Having begun refereeing over two decades ago, Greg’s achieved his dream of representing his country with his whistle in hand. He reached elite level in 2007 when he was appointed an international beach volleyball referee.
Volleyball England caught up with Greg to chat about the Commonwealth Games and find out how he made it to the top of his sport…
How does it feel to have been appointed to officiate at the 2018 Commonwealth Games?
GT: I was looking forward to the event as soon as it was announced that beach volleyball would feature in the Commonwealth Games programme for the first time. It is great news for the sport. The selection process saw officials chosen from each of the six Commonwealth regions with Europe being my region. There are not many Commonwealth countries in Europe and I am the most experienced referee in that group so I knew I was in contention to be chosen. I’m delighted to have been selected.
Where will refereeing at the Commonwealth Games rank in your career highlights?
GT: I refereed at the London 2012 Olympics which was a great highlight but I now have six more years of experience of officiating so this ranks up there alongside the Olympics. Particularly as it is the first time that beach volleyball has featured in the Commonwealth Games, I feel like a pioneer who is being trusted to help deliver a great beach volleyball experience.
From the beach volleyball point of view, it is like when the sport was first included in the Olympic programme at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Referee Jeff Brehaut was the first referee to represent England at the Olympics and he went on to officiate in the Men’s Gold Medal Match. I don’t know if I will be eventually selected to referee the final - I would love to – but it will be an honour just to be one of the first referees to officiate at a Commonwealth Games. I’m really looking forward to it.
How did you get into refereeing?
GT: I used to play local league Volleyball for a Newbury-based team, in Berkshire. The club asked if anyone would be interested in taking the Grade 4 referee qualification and I did it. As one of only a couple of people qualified to referee at my club, I did most of the games. I progressed to the National Volleyball League (NVL) and had become an International Beach Volleyball referee by this time too. To gain a better work/life balance I had to reduce the amount of refereeing so reluctantly gave up refereeing in the NVL and picked beach volleyball as my destiny.
Why did you pick the Beach Volleyball over Volleyball?
GT: There was an opportunity presented to me in early 2007 to become an international referee sooner in beach volleyball, than for volleyball. I desperately wanted to represent my country as a referee so chose that route. I always wanted to represent my country as an athlete but was never in the right spot or place to develop my skills to get to that level. So I decided that if I couldn’t represent England as a player, then I wanted to represent my country at the highest level as an official. To still be able to do it as a referee really resonates with my passion for the sport.
What are the differences between refereeing Volleyball and Beach Volleyball?
GT: The FIVB had a strategy to converge the rules of the two different variants games to make them a more similar product in many ways, but they are fundamentally different codes. In Volleyball you have six players on court per team whereas in Beach Volleyball you only have two and of course, beach is predominantly played outdoors, in all weathers - the sun, wind and sometimes rain!
The interpretation of the handling laws is slightly different too but still with the aim of keeping the ball flying. In Beach Volleyball, there is also no coaching or substitutions. Apart from the generally slightly shorter match durations, one of the unique aspects is the rule that teams have to swap courts every seven points (every five points in the deciding set if played).
They have many differences which make them distinctively different sports with a different feel to each other. I love both.
What qualities do you think a good referee needs?
GT: A knowledge of the rules is always a good start! A thirst for knowledge and being adaptable to changes in routine. A willingness to take criticism on the chin, particularly from your peers. You need to be able to make tough calls. Sometimes if that is against a home team in a big atmosphere that can be difficult but if you get it right everyone understands.
You need to have a feel for the game too and how you use your judgement to step in. For example, there have been times when players have warranted a red card on match point, but you don’t want to give it as that is what the game will be remembered for. A good referee will be someone who the players don’t remember refereed them; they remain anonymous.
What is it about refereeing which gives you the most sense of enjoyment?
GT: It’s about the management of a match; you need to take control of the game from the very start. For me, it’s knowing that I have done a good job. When you’ve worked well with your refereeing team to do a good job there is no better feeling.
In my professional career, I am not ever going to be the CEO of my company but for an hour or so on the beach, the buck stops with me to deliver a well-run game of beach volleyball and I thrive on that.
At the Commonwealth Games you will be refereeing in a venue with 4,000 spectators, how does a crowd change how you prepare and referee a game?
GT: For me, it doesn’t matter if I am refereeing in front of one man and his dog or 4,000 people, the way I prepare does not change. It is simply a case of everything you do is magnified. At top level, there are video challenges to deal with too.
I dare say at the Games I will referee an Australian match and there will be a partisan crowd. With an atmosphere like that the stakes are much higher. On the Gold Coast, like at London 2012, it is the purest form of refereeing as everything is taken care of. The courtside staff are trained, the balls are pumped to the right pressure, the net is at the correct height, the DJ will be on point, staff will ensure the players are in the right place at the right time so a lot of the stress is taken off. I can focus on the scoresheet and refereeing to the best of my ability. It pushes different buttons, as I have been at events where you have to teach people where to be and what to do.
It is great to see the England teams and Jeff Brehaut as one of the Referee Delegates there too and not be the only one representing the country.
How do you balance your work life with being an international beach volleyball referee?
GT: It’s tough as refereeing is a pro hobby – it doesn’t pay the mortgage, it pays for the fun stuff. I use personal leave from the business to referee at events which can be around three to four weeks over a year. That means family time is squeezed. I have a very understanding wife who comes from a volleyball background. We have to be creative and eek out as much time as we can for family time by booking holidays around bank holidays.
I have found more of a balance in recent years as there was a lot of pressure before London 2012. Now for the Commonwealth Games I have six more years of experience to call upon too. My schedule is not insanely overbearing but I am not sure for how many years I will continue. I can referee for a maximum of nine more years but I think in about three to five years’ time – that’s sort of sticking my finger in the year to put a time on it – I will call it a day. I will only do it for as long as it is enjoyable.
As my career has progressed, I have gone from learner to teacher and look to help develop the next generation of referees. There is an informal group that helps train the up and coming referees and I am doing my bit to impart my knowledge and help find the referees of the future.