So, You’re a Check Point Official? Make that an Umpire!

Article by Kirsteen Farrance

Many club volunteers and officials arrive at a cross country or road race event to find we have been allocated a check point for the day. First thoughts; ‘…damn, forgot my book’ or ‘… at least I have my phone’!

An Umpire on a Cross Country is more than just someone who points in the right direct each time the runners come past you. You are the eyes and ears of the referee out on the course during every race ie you are an umpire, a course assessor, a race reporter as well as making sure the runners run in the right direction.

Of course, cross country and road races are not run in perfect conditions, so an Umpire should always be prepared. This includes:

  • Warm clothing including gloves and a beanie
  • Wet weather gear
  • Water proof footwear
  • Umbrella
  • A camping chair or stool
  • Mobile phone
  • Two way radio (provided by the organisers)
  • Note pad and pen to write down any competitor numbers or describe any misdemeanours
  • Water bottle and/or thermos of a hot beverage
  • Something to eat – lunch and/or snacks (don’t forget to take your rubbish with you)

I have even seen someone organise their camp stove, had the billy boiling and the snags cooking!! Of course, if you are tending to the snags, you’re not watching the course or the runners.

Prior to the start of competition, the Referee (or the Competition Director) will brief all Umpires on:

  • Making sure you stand in an appropriate position at your allocated position to:
    • Watch the runners approach your check point, checking for any interference or any runner(s)not following the marked course
    • Make sure the runners are heading in the correct direction
    • Watch the runners run past and away from you checking for any interference or any runner(s) not following the marked course
  • Radio through to the Referee indicating the bib number of the first runner past your check and the last runner past your check point for every lap of every race
  • Listen to the calls from the other check points paying attention to any calls indicating runners that may have dropped out
  • If you identify any interference or course cutting, radio this through to the Referee immediately, make a note of the bib numbers of competitors involved and what you observed
  • Remember, it is your job to report anything usual. It is the job of the Referee to make the decision if an infringement has occurred and to warn or disqualify any runner

IAAF Rule 250.9: If the Referee is satisfied on the report of a Judge or Umpire or otherwise that an athlete has left the marked course thereby shortening the distance to be covered, he shall be disqualified.

For the Referee to enforce this rule correctly, the Umpires now become very important. So, a correct call on whether a runner is ‘shortening the distance to be covered’ from an Umpire must be observed and noted on behalf of the Referee.


  • What if the course at or near your check point becomes slippery, boggy or just plain dangerous:
    • Radio through to the Referee with your concerns
    • The Referee, or Assistant Referee, may come and have a look or
    • You may be instructed to move the flags, so that the runners run around the dangerous patch of ground
    • You would make this alteration prior to the next race or once all the runners have past you.