RYANI Official in Focus - Chris Lindsay

Tokyo Digital International Technical Official, Chris Lindsay from Carrickfergus Sailing Club caught up with us after returning from the Tokyo Games to give some insight into his role and working as an official in Endoshima.
C Lindsay in Tokyo

1. What was your role title at the Games?

My role was Digital ITO (where ITO means ‘International Technical Official’ in Olympic language). 

2. How have you found the Olympic venue/ set up?  What makes it different?

Really impressive! As you can imagine, the Olympics is a unique event. This year especially so we had the added challenge of COVID-19 to contend with. Many of us were anxious initially about travelling across the World for the Games, but the Japanese organisers had gone to huge lengths to make sure the event was safe for all the athletes, support person and officials. 

3. How many officials were there for the event?

The race official team was much bigger than any other event I have attended. There are 20 International Race Officers, 28 Judges and Umpires that form the Jury and 11 International Measurers. What makes each team so special for the Olympics is that, with few exceptions, within each team, there are no two persons from the same country. For me, this is always the highlight, having the chance to work with other officials that come from literally all over the World. Besides the internationals officials there was a huge number of Japanese national officials and volunteers as well as World Sailing staff, all of whom made the event a success.

4. Were you on the water? 

Hardly at all! As part of my new role, I was based in the ‘Race Officials Booth’ which is ashore, along with my colleague Anastazja from Poland. We had access to all the live video streams and tracking, so although we aren’t on the water ourselves, we don’t miss much! Our role was to support the event officials with their decision making by providing video clips of incidents or using the tracking software to answer their queries. 

5. What did a typical day look like?

The whole event for us was based on routine. Every morning started with a COVID test (joy!) and then breakfast at our hotel at around 7:30, before catching the 08:05 bus to the venue. We were walked from our hotel to the bus stop every morning by a security detail just in case we might try to go for a wander in between! 

Flying to Japan would ordinarily require a 14-day quarantine, so to avoid that we are essentially kept in a ‘bubble’ with all the other sailing officials. This meant we were restricted to staying in the hotel or being at the venue, but it was a necessary precaution to keep everyone safe during the event. 

Once we arrive at the venue, we pass through security which is the same as being in an airport really. Hopefully having remembered our accreditation (otherwise you might as well have missed the bus!). After clearing security, the rest of our morning was taken up with briefings and meetings.  As digital ITOs, we attended the morning Jury and race management meetings to understand the plan for the day.  There are briefings for each medal race umpire team if there is medal racing scheduled that day. 
By around 11am delta flags are displayed, and as the athletes start to head out on the water, we made our way over to the Race Officials Booth to follow the racing. 

In the booth we had access to 8 camera feeds from media boats, helicopters and drones, and the tracking data on each boat. As each race progressed, our role was to watch the footage and note down any incidents that we spotted. We are not making any decisions ‘live’ as in sailing all the incidents are decided by a panel of 5 judges later ashore.

Once racing finished we would wait to see if any of the incidents we had seen were filled as protests with the jury. Once we saw an electronic protest form arrive, we would produce a video clip of the footage, as well as a clip of the tracking and pass it to the jury panel dealing with that hearing. The ultimate aim was to make sure that the jury had all the available information before hearing the protest, so that the decisions were less likely to be reopened later. Despite not being on the water, having access to so many cameras really made it the best seat in the house!

On days when there were medal races, we would also follow the racing live and be in touch with the umpire team on the water. Medal races are different as instead of hearings ashore everything is decided by umpires on the water in real time. The umpire boats had trackers so we would be making sure that the fleet was covered properly, and gently nudging the umpires if we saw a possible incident coming up that wasn’t going to have an umpire boat close by. When an umpire decision was made, we would also be explaining to the media the reasons for the umpire call given, usually done live to the TV! 

Once the hearings were over, we jumped on the bus back to the hotel. Although dinner was courtesy of UberEats delivered to the hotel, Japanese Sushi didn’t disappoint! 

6. Is there anything different in your approach to the Games compared to other events?

Yes and no! The Olympic Games is a very different event in so many ways, yet it is also ‘just another event’. The main difference is probably the awareness that the decisions are subject to far more scrutiny than normal, and the level of resources that we have. There are not many events where the jury can review footage from two helicopters! 

At a personal level, one of the other main differences for me is that almost every country brings with them a rules advisor. Usually that person is a very experienced judge or umpire and many of the advisors were people that I am good friends with or officiate regularly with. Of course, during the Games we have to be very careful to avoid any perception of bias, so I couldn’t speak to people that I knew apart from saying ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’.

7. Do you feel much pressure in your role?  Is there more pressure when decisions need to be made on the medal races?

You definitely feel more pressure at the Olympics, mostly because you realise how important this event is to the athletes taking part. For the sailors this event is the culmination of years of training and dedication, and all the officials take their role very seriously. 

Part of my role at the Games was to communicate the umpire decisions in the medal races over the live broadcast, which I’ve never done before. That was definitely nerve wrecking, as nothing my umpiring career had quite prepared me for when the media director was in my ear shouting “Ok Chris, you’re live in 3..2..1”!.

8. Do you have much engagement with the athletes/ coaches/ managers?

In my role I didn’t interact with the athletes very much at all. This was in part because of my role which was to support the Jury and Race Committee, but also because with the COVID restrictions we tried to minimise any contact with athletes or coaches that wasn’t necessary. I did end up as a witness in a few protest hearings when I was called in to help the jury understand how the tracking system worked or how the videos were collected and processed. 

9. Are there any rules that differ to normal at the Games?  

I think the biggest difference from other events were all the differences caused by COVID. To travel to Japan, I had to get a daily PCR COVID-19 test for three days before travelling and minimise contact with others as much as possible for the two weeks before travelling. As officials that are in contact with athletes, we got tested daily from when we arrived (I won’t miss spitting in a tube every morning!) and had to record our temperature every day as well. A lot of extra steps but it definitively helped make everyone feel safe at the event.

Even in a ‘normal’ year the Olympics is a very complicated event by most standards. Of course, there are the Sailing Instructions and Notice of Race, but did you also read the competition and support teams regulations, the equipment inspection policies, and the playbooks? There is a huge amount of paperwork and rules that go in to making the whole event run smoothly but thankfully we don’t need not memorise it all!

10. What makes this role particularly special?

For me having the chance to be involved in the Olympics was such an exciting opportunity. I was appointed by World Sailing as an International Judge in 2017 and Umpire in 2018, so I really didn’t think for a second that I would be considered for the 2020 Olympics. 

What really brought it home for me was after each medal race we could attend the medal ceremonies, and watch the athletes get presented with their Olympic Medals. Seeing that up close really made me feel part of something special.

The experience was even more exciting as I had the chance to take on this brand-new role as Digital ITO. As the technology gets better and better, many sports are taking advantage of video review tools to help the officials make accurate decisions, so being involved in piloting this kind of technology in sailing was really exciting.  

11. Have you any advice to people considering becoming a race official?

Do it!

My officiating career started at my local sailing club in Carrickfergus where I was helping to run the club racing. Volunteering to help at bigger events helped me to get more experience and I was very fortunate to meet some of the top Irish officials who helped me to get event invitations and the experience I needed to progress. Eventually I started being asked to help at events abroad, which set me on the road to getting my international qualifications. In terms of the sailing, a club race is not really that different to a race at the Olympics, so the skills you learn even helping at your own club will be invaluable at higher level events. 

My advice would be to say yes to as opportunities that come your way as possible. If someone asks if you are free to help on a committee boat next weekend, do it. If you are pulled out of the bar to help with a protest hearing, do it. Every club will have a qualified judge or race officer who will appreciate your support and they will help you to get more experience.