UKU introduces refereeing at the highest level

The UKU has just released a document which outlines the procedures they can now go through to punish teams for being poorly spirited.

After a “triggering spirit score” (tournament spirit average below 8 / two averages below 9 / two scores at a tournament of 6 or below), the team is contacted with breakdowns of the scores, offered support/discussion, and reminded of the importance of SOTG. If the team receives another triggering spirit score, and the UKU do not consider that appropriate steps have been taken internally to improve their spirit, they may be sanctioned with any of the following:

  • Loss of UKU membership for captain/all players on the team for up to 6 months – no refunds to be given
  • Elimination of that team from all future UKU ultimate events
  • Charge for a UKU appointed person to monitor and report on their SOTG – £100-£200 per event
  • Disqualification of team from previous events including loss of titles and any ranking points
  • Deselection of any or all players on that team from current or future GB programmes
  • Non selection of that team for future representative events (eg EUCF, World Clubs)

Playing outside of the rules of spirit of the game is now a punishable offence – unlike any other rule. We have all been asked by beginners questions like “What happens if you mack your own pull further down the field?” – the answer being simply that you are not allowed to do it; there is no punishment. The teams work out for themselves the most fair way to resume the game. This aspect of SOTG is probably the most striking for new players – every aspect of the game does actually come down to the players. The UKU are breaking this striking aspect at the very highest level – there is now an answer to the ultimate SOTG question; “What happens if your team consistently cheats to win?”

Previously the answer would be something along the lines of “Well, the entire game would cease to work, and other teams will think you are complete dicks” – are we being too idealistic to think this is an adequate deterrent? Apparently not – it has been working just fine so far.

Since the UKU’s recent publication, the consequences for poor spirit are now defined, which opens the door to weighing those consequences against poorly spirited actions, much like a footballer weighs up a red card against stopping a goal with their hand.

By specifying what an unacceptable level of spirit is, the UKU have inadvertently defined what an acceptable level of spirit is – the power has been taken from the players in the area which is most unique to our game. Now that the line has been drawn, will players and teams see how close they can get to that line without risking stepping over it?

Over the years, various teams have drifted through seasons of poor spirit, but their consciences have always held them accountable and have, sooner or later, spurred them on to address any spirit issues. Clapham had their troubles many years ago, but instigated rules such as ‘no contested calls / sending the disc back at training, either uphold or retract the call’ – and went on to not only win Spirit at European Clubs 2005, but also took home the gold medals.

Clapham’s EUC 2005 team – 1st place & Spirit to boot

Uni teams have been through bad patches, but have always come out the other side – either from getting to know their opponents better and thus being more susceptible to peer pressure (or just not being jerks to their friends), or because no freshers want to stay with a team that it’s clear everyone dislikes, or more often, their conscience struggles when cheating to win a game when nobody is there stop you. Our consciences are no longer the only thing keeping us in check – the UKU’s document has now removed the need for a conscience to keep this game working.

Judging other teams spirit is also now mandatory, with repeated lapses punishable by £100 fines and results being revoked. When you’re writing that spirit score, you have real power to impact your opponents performance retrospectively, depending on the UKU. Is it too idealistic to think that a better system would be to encourage teams to share their spirit scores with each other after the game, and discuss there and then if there are any shortcomings or misunderstandings? Whatever score you give an opponent, you should be willing and able to justify it to their face, and when you receive a poor score, you should be eager to learn the reasons why so that you might rectify it for the very next game.

Spirit in the UK really was not so bad in the first place, there were no awfully spirited teams consistently and blatantly cheating to win games, and no National titles have ever been in dispute due to contentious calls, so why have the UKU taken this step of refereeing our spirit now? Are these the actions of a well-meaning committee who have no discernible purpose in times of peace?

Spirit is now mandatory, how far you can push it has been defined, and your conscience is not the ultimate safety net anymore. This cuts deep and has the potential to be the most detrimental thing ever seen for SOTG.

Original UKU SOTG Policy document here.

22 replies
  1. Russell
    Russell says:

    This: “Note: sanctions will not be applied based solely on the scores that a team is
    given by other teams, but because the UKU feels that a team has not responded
    correctly to the process and the warnings given.”

    • DP
      DP says:

      Also calling it refereeing is a bit harsh, it is simply sanctions for bad continued spirit, which I imagine the UKU hope they will never have to use.

    • Felix Shardlow
      Felix Shardlow says:

      If you’re referring to the ‘two sub-8 spirit scores’ bit, I’ve changed to wording to make it clear it’s two tournament average scores below 8. Any factual inaccuracies remain?

  2. Felix Shardlow
    Felix Shardlow says:

    The original policy document was already linked in the main article. Care to specify the factual inaccuracies in the article?

    I added “…if a team hasn’t gone to lengths to improve their spirit…” however this didn’t change the factual accuracy of the article.

    • DP
      DP says:

      The title is not factual. Maybe I just disagree with how you have spun this piece of information. Spirit itself has not changed, just that the UKU have introduced sanctions for repeat offenders. What is so wrong with that? We all HOPE that no one breaks the rules but we know that isn’t always true and if that is seen too much then something has to happen.

  3. Brummie
    Brummie says:

    Did you see the game between Japan and Canada Open at WUGC 2012? Saying that things have been working just fine so far is ok, but there is a need to plan for the future, in case any UK-based team is involved in such an incident. Having a policy in place means that the UKU can take appropriate action without seeming too arbitrary. Prior to these policies, the UKU would be utterly powerless to stop blatant cheats or dangerous players from taking part in future events; effectively, this is the same as failing to safeguard the safety of all other UKU members.

    These sanctions do nothing to remove the responsibility held by players to uphold SOTG. See WFDF Rules if you’re unsure. Your argument that people will now approach games differently holds no water; players still need a conscience, they still need to play by SOTG. It’s just that now your entire team can be held accountable for the actions of an individual. If they can’t be controlled, don’t let them play and ruin the sport for all of their opponents.

    There is currently no requirement to have to justify your SOTG scores to your opponents – this is nothing to do with the UKU. I agree that it would be good to get a justification for a poor score, but there also needs to be a mechanism to honestly report without fear of stigma.

    You have a point about the “acceptable” level of spirit; but this “triggering score” is likely to move according to the results from the first few years of this policy being in place. I doubt there will be many harsh sanctions any time soon; it takes time to work out how any new system is going to work.

    You yourself linked to a clip of an infamous incident from Maribor; were this to happen at UKU Nationals and cost a team their spot at EUCF, without sanctions there would be no punishments handed out to cheats. What would the uproar be? What’s to stop that cheat from cheating again? These policies show that someone is being wary of potential future issues; I doubt anyone wants a legal battle because someone reported repeatedly for dangerous play was allowed to continue to play and caused a serious injury.

    Saying “there’s never been a problem so why put anything in place” is like waiting to close the stable door after the horses have bolted. Far better that these issues are anticipated than reacted to. The UKU SOTG Committee do a very worthy job, working to ensure that the UKU leads the world in matters of SOTG.

    • Felix Shardlow
      Felix Shardlow says:

      SOTG being a problem in another country does not necessarily mean it will be a problem in the UK. For all we know it could have been the introduction of punishments for poor SOTG that prompted the downward spiral.

      The UKU surely has the right to refuse entry to a UKU tournament, if it comes to that.

      The WFDF rules contain no punishments for breaking them, and, on the whole, this stops people breaking them. The SOTG rules (effectively) have just added punishments – this is the water of my argument.

      I did link to the incident from Maribor – do you really think that he will cheat again? I would argue that his cheating actually did fantastic things in the long run for SOTG – everybody got to see how strongly the community of ultimate players felt about spirit, it provoked thought and discussion, and no doubt improved spirit across Europe more than any other one action could do – even Rodder’s great display of Spirit at Tour 1 2008 (

      Preparing for the future is important, but so is the saying “If it aint broke, don’t fix it.”

  4. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    Sounds like I’m in the minority but I’m very much with Felix on this one. I’ve never been on a team that’s taken a bad spirit score at all well or let one member of the team go too far without stepping in. A poor score has always been its own sanction in my eyes and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this refereeing. I also think the sanctions, whether intended to be used or not, are ludicrously harsh and could ruin the sport for many honest players who have been let down by a minority on their team or by a misjudged spirit score or two. Who fills in the spirit scores anyway? Often one player is designated spirit monkey and their particular view of how a game went could suddenly be very important. Who knows what good spirit they might have missed? Seems potentially unfair and pointless to me.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      I agree that the ‘spirit monkey’ is a completely useless model and those players captaining/coaching sides have a responsibility to emphysise the importance of involvement.
      All of the clubs I play for gather the whole team together and encourage open discussion about each domain before voting on each score in each domain. We do it during a cool down and it allows it to not be bogged down or boosted up by a good/bad one on one battle.
      The involvement of all players should be encouraged as good spirit in itself rather than dismissing the scores on the basis some teams take a less representative view. Would be interesting to get a feel for whether the ‘spirit monkey’ or team concensus is the more common formula nowadays

  5. Jessie Stanbrook
    Jessie Stanbrook says:

    I think the sanctions are a little harsh for the same reasons as expressed by Charlie. Also, an average spirit score is 10/20 – giving 2 for each element is labelled ‘good’. 8 is surely too high regarding this?! 5 would make more sense with a team scoring on average all 1s (I think ‘poor’) rather than some ‘good’s.

    • Jessie Stanbrook
      Jessie Stanbrook says:

      And what must a team do to “respond correctly to the process and warnings given” – apologise? Write a letter to UKU saying why?Simply up their spirit score next tournament (though this may look like doing nothing)? In any case there is little a whole team can do apart from wait for the next tournament and this may cause them to be penalised as a consequence.

  6. Seamus
    Seamus says:

    I think the word refereeing in your title here is unnecessarily inflammatory. Perhaps that’s your intention? Reading your comments on the Maribor incident I get the feeling you think the debate would be useful for it’s own sake:

    “it provoked thought and discussion, and no doubt improved spirit across Europe more than any other one action could do”.

    and hence use of the word referee!

    In any case, the word refereeing is generally used for interpreting/enforcing the rules in live play situations. Other words tend to be used for enforcement of the rules outside of direct competition, for instance ‘Citing Commission’, ‘Disciplinary Committee’ or an example from our own sport: ‘Tournament Rules Group’.

    The distinction between in-game rules enforcement / penalties and out-of-live-play rules enforcement / penalties is important.

    Ultimate already has the latter. There are already punishable offences, for instance I believe the Tournament Rules Group disqualified a team for playing an ineligible player at beach worlds. We’ve signed up to WADA, therefore doping is also now a ‘punishable offence’. The UKU has kit rules and breaking them is punishable.

    The anti-penalty nature of the rules seems to be solely about in-game penalties (obviously, we won’t see free kicks or red cards any time soon).

    Regarding the punishments in this SOTG policy, I really struggle to imagine someone

    “weighing … consequences against poorly spirited actions, much like a footballer weighs up a red card against stopping a goal with their hand.”

    Being a jerk will remain being a jerk, only now, some poor soul from the UKU has to tap the jerk on the shoulder at the end of the day and say “you know you’re being a jerk?”

    Of course telling them yourself, in a post game spirit circle is useful too, but it can be hard to do without it seeming bitter.

  7. Felix Shardlow
    Felix Shardlow says:

    Well said!

    I don’t think the spirit circle is the place to talk about spirit (ironically) because everything is too fresh and all team mates opinions have not been voiced and digested. Half an hour after the game, if the captains were to meet back up and have a chat, I’m sure good things would come of it.

    • Seamus
      Seamus says:

      ever tried it?
      (I haven’t, and I’m curious)

      As an aside, once I comment here, can I get email updates of further comments? I had thought I would but I don’t think I did.

    • Felix Shardlow
      Felix Shardlow says:

      Yeah, one of the best spirit experiences I had was when our scorer at EUCF2012 told Freespeed that we had given them a spirit score which seemed pretty low (I seem to remember it wasn’t particularly low in our opinion – fairly close to 10) – initially we were surprised and a little taken aback that the scorer had shared the info, but chatting to the Freespeed captains was incredibly productive for us all, and was such a positive experience in the end that I’ve started adopting a similar spirit approach to tournaments I organise.

      Don’t think updates are sorted yet so I guess keep checking back until the next website upgrade, which is due in about a month.

  8. Brummie
    Brummie says:

    Oh, and there have always been referees in Ultimate. All 14 players on the fields are referees, responsible for upholding SOTG and ensuring that the rules are adhered to. Seamus is correct to point out that we are already subject to higher authorities. Why the fear of being accountable?

    To take an extreme example; what if one player punched another over a call? Sure, there would be community pressure to prevent a repeat, but if the person/persons involved didn’t change, would you really want to play them? Some of the events I saw in Japan were close to assault.

    As for saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the UKU was sent a complaint from the WFDF SOTG Committee regarding low SOTG scores from several GB teams in Japan. I’d say that makes it “broke”, and time that something was done.

  9. Wayne
    Wayne says:

    I perceive this articles’ tone to be both suggestive of this being a unilateral UKU initiative, and accusatory by focussing on the ‘punishments’. Is this a UKU initiative, or the UKU’s operation of a higher level (e.g. WFDF) process? Are we not encouraged that the NGB is willing to spend time educating the teams/players that are judged (by their peers) to be falling behind?


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