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Inside the World of a Triathlon Technical Official

When you think of a referee, your first thought might be someone decked out in a yellow shirt, with an all-powerful whistle around their neck. They’re likely sprinting back and forth on a court or a field, ready to call out a foul at any moment.

Triathlon has referees, too, although they couldn’t be further from the stereotypical “referee” archetype most think of.  Triathlon referees, or “Technical Officials” as they’re formally titled, are present during every leg of nearly all sanctioned commercial events in NSW, but most age-groupers tend to only be aware of their presence during the bike portion.

Technical Officials are most noticeable during the bike leg as they are ferried around on the back of a motorcycle with a small notebook, looking for anyone who is seeking to gain an advantage illegally—or who isn’t paying attention to the rules.

While many athletes feather their brakes as the sound of the motorcycle rumbles behind them, seeking to make it extra-clear to the referee they aren’t drafting, you may be surprised to find out that for age groupers at least, triathlon referees aren’t hungry to give out penalties. In fact, they’d rather not. Our referees take time to really scope out the situation and understand the full context of what’s going on before making a call.

Technical Officials hold a Triathlon Australia accreditation which requires both an online / in person course and a ‘Field of Play’ assessment, but like all roles in the real world and just like triathletes at events, some have countless years of experience to call upon and some are just starting out in their journey.

Technical Officials are considered volunteers, although they do receive a very small ‘Field of Play’ reimbursement. But given they are often required to cover petrol, accommodation, food, and time off work (all the same expenses that an athlete would have to pay minus the entry fee!) there isn’t a Technical Official who does it for the ‘money!’.  They do it for a wide variety of reasons including - getting close to the action, staying involved in a sport they love or supporting a sport that someone they love is involved with (just to name a few).

For an Event Organizers, the number of Technical Officials (and their role at that event), varies greatly depending on the type of event. As you can imagine, a local super sprint / enticer or kids’ triathlon requires far fewer referees and a very different approach than a race with Professional athletes racing for prize money or qualification to International Events both of which require officials with more and higher experience.

When a complete newbie competitor arrives at their first triathlon, they are no doubt already nervous, anxious and a little bit intimidated. They don’t know the rules and how could they? We know very few newbies are going to take the time to read the rule book, and why would they focus on that when they have one goal and one goal only – completing the event!  

If they mount their bike in transition and don’t wait till the mount line, are they seeking a competitive advantage? In most likely hood they are probably not! They probably don’t even know that there is a mount line after which they can jump on! So, the role of Technical Official here is education rather than rule enforcement.

Technical Officials prefer not to give out any penalties. They are not out to ruin your race. But they will focus on anything that they determine is an experienced athlete seeking to gain an unfair advantage or cheating.

How to become a Triathlon Australia Technical Official.

To ensure technical courses are more accessible for individuals, there is now an online option to complete the Level 1 course theory component. Occasionally courses are offered Face to Face.

The Online course will be completed in two sections:

  • Modules 1-9 touches on the National Officiating pathway, requirements for accreditation, general rules, warnings and penalties, protests and appeals, and workplace safety. Each module will include multiple choice questions which must be answered correctly before moving onto the next module. 
  • Module 10 includes officiating behaviours and scenarios. Participants will be given access to this section which will be completed while speaking with their State/Territory Technical Officer or representative so that they may answer any questions you may have. 

Once Module 10 has been finalised, a participant will need to complete a Field of Play assessment at an event, along with having a Working with Children Certificate, and a TA membership (a Technical Official TA membership is free of charge). 

You can register for the course HERE. You'll be required to add the course to your cart and complete the checkout process (course is free of charge). You'll receive login details via email, and you'll have 30 days to complete the course. 

For any enquiries, please email technical@triathlon.org.au and include which state/territory you are from or contact sue.horsburgh@nsw.triathlon.org.au

Our Technical Officials are also required to complete the ‘Community Officiating General Principles’ online course from the Australian Sports Commission. It’s a free course here for all Australian Officials.


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