I have been directly involved with the organization of physique competitions for over 15 years. In that decade and a half, I have worked with several organizations and have seen thousands of men and women compete – maybe even tens of thousands. So I’ve met many people, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the serious competitors, it’s that their number-one concern in any competition is the fairness of the judging. Who can blame them? The judging determines the winners, so if the judging isn’t fair, what is the purpose of competing?

Right now the topic is hotter than ever in the United States. If you go to the Facebook page of Lee Thompson, a former judge with the IFBB and now the founder of an organization called Nspire Sports League, you can see what I’m talking about. In the last few months, he’s posted many comments, pictures, and even videos, about corrupt judging and contest fixing that he has witnessed over the years. What he says will surprise many; however, for me, this kind of controversy is nothing new.

Take the 1980 Mr. Olympia, for example. That competition is the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger made his comeback and won, and subsequently retired from the stage forever. But the event is steeped in such controversy about the judging that bodybuilding fans still talk about it today as if happened yesterday. In a nutshell, many felt that the judging there was corrupt and that Arnold shouldn’t have won. Some even said it was fixed from the moment Arnold said he would enter. Regardless, the outcome of that contest was so bad that it put a blemish on Schwarzenegger’s otherwise stellar career and a number of competitors boycotted the Olympia the following year, which, ironically, is when Arnold’s friend Franco Columbu won, and where even more controversy about the judging ensued! Those are just two examples of questionable judging, but there are many more, which Thompson has been quick to point out. That brings me to this month’s topic . . .

When Physique Canada was formed in late 2011, everyone involved knew that they wanted to do two things better than any other organization: one was drug testing, which I’ve written plenty about; the other was judging, which I’m going to talk about now.

The Physique Canada folks knew that they had to improve the judging process so it would be fair to all competitors. At the same time, they realized that they had to build trust among competitors and spectators, mostly because of what’s gone down in other organizations over the years. After all, if no one trusts the judging, then it isn’t only competitors who are angry – the outcome of every competition becomes suspect, which reduces the credibility of the contests and the organization.

Debbie LeclercDebbie Leclcer, Physique Canada Head Judge

Today, the responsibility for the integrity of the Physique Canada judging lies mostly with Debbie Leclerc, who is featured on our cover this month. She’s been involved with Physique Canada since the beginning and is currently its head judge. She reports to the organization’s president, Brian Robitaille.

One thing that has been instrumental in improving the judging process is the training program for judges that Physique Canada put into place at the beginning. Surprisingly, few organizations have one; in fact, I have worked with organizations that had no training whatsoever and allowed people to judge who had never proven that they were capable of doing so (which is one of the reasons I won’t endorse their events anymore).

Brian Robitaille Brian Robitaille, Physique Canada President

At Physique Canada, before any judge sits on the panel, he or she must first take a course conducted by Debbie. After the course, they test judge an event. Debbie then looks at how they did in the course and test judging to determine if that person will be a real judge at a future show. Not everyone makes it. Actually, not everyone can even apply – no coaches, trainers, or anyone affiliated with helping competitors prepare for events is even allowed to be a judge. Other organizations actually do allow coaches and trainers or others who have associations with competitors to be on their judging panels, but everyone at Physique Canada believes that would be way too much of a conflict of interest to let happen.

For those who do become judges, their performance assessments aren’t over. After every event, Debbie looks closely at every score from every judge and determines if anything appears out of whack with their scores. If there is a problem, corrective action might need to be taken. That might mean dismissal, if the judge acted unethically or is incompetent, but it could also mean retraining and test judging again if more education is what’s needed. Every case is different.

To improve trust with the competitors and spectators, the people behind Physique Canada have always known that transparency is mandatory. As a result, there are no secrets at Physique Canada – the judging guidelines are on the website for all to see, the organization conducts workshops where questions about judging can be answered directly, and, not insignificantly, the individual scores for each judge are shown on the website.

Debbie instructingDebbie explaining posing at a Physique Canada seminar

The disclosing of individual scores is crucial for transparency, and is something few organizations do (they usually just publish the combined scores, which gives the competitor rankings, but is useless when it comes to determining whether the judging is fair or not). The reason it is important is so everyone can see how each judge ranked the competitors to determine if the judges were on the same page in terms of their scoring, or if they were all over the map. When the judges’ scores are all over the map, it could mean a number of things. For example, it could be as simple as some judges not understanding the judging criteria well, which is why some additional education might be in order. Or it could mean that some judges are corrupt and are trying to skew the final scores, which would be grounds for dismissal. If an organization isn’t showing individual scores, it usually means they have something to hide, which only builds suspicion. With Physique Canada, it’s out in the open.

Another way Physique Canada builds trust with competitors is through judging feedback for each athlete, which Debbie is directly responsible for immediately after each competition. However, Debbie doesn’t give competitors only her feedback. Right after each event, she collects all of the judges’ comments and relays all that feedback so that the competitor learns what everyone on the panel thinks, not just her own opinion. Furthermore, she only gives the feedback directly to the competitor, so that there’s no chance for miscommunication – the only way to ensure that the competitor can use the feedback constructively to improve.

Debbie backstageDebbie is serious backstage . . . most of the time

I could go on and on about the things Physique Canada has done to improve judging, but what’s important to take to the bank is this – just like the organization brought into the physique sports a world-class drug-testing program that has made for a fairer stage for all clean competitors, Physique Canada has worked equally hard to tackle the judging-related issues that have plagued organizations for decades. In turn, Physique Canada’s success in that regard has made for more credible competitions where competitors and spectators can trust the outcome. Taking this kind of action with judging was long overdue – but it was also the right thing to do.

Doug Schneider
SeriousAboutMuscle.com Founder and Publisher