Why officiating for the Special Olympics is so much fun

We hear from Martin Etheridge, who officiated at the recent Special Olympics European Tennis Tournament in Luxembourg about why he enjoyed the experience so much.

I think it's fair to say that umpiring at the Special Olympics European Tennis Tournament, which took place in Luxemburg between 15-18 November, was one of the most enjoyable events I have ever officiated in. The event is for players with a learning disability and has a focus on participation.

There were 80 athletes taking part from 20 countries in Europe and Asia, including as far away as Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, and over the course of the three days I umpired 31 matches in total. This included 13 matches on the first day, which was set aside for 'divisioning' when the players were observed so they could be placed in the appropriate level according to their tennis ability.

Apart from the back-to-back matches, extra challenges included umpiring a range of formats on a range of size courts, various coloured balls, a variety of languages and captains being on court. The role of the umpire proved to be far broader than the traditional one, because, as well as upholding the rules, there was often a need to remind players where to stand and also to be more flexible on infringements such as foot-faults.

One of the highlights for me was being chosen to read the Officials' Oath at the Opening Ceremony in front of the Prince and Princess of Luxemburg. I promised that "we shall officiate in the Special Olympics Games with complete impartiality, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the spirit of sportsmanship". I shared this special moment with Luke East from the British team, who was selected to read the Players' Oath.

I was made to feel a real part of the GB Special Olympics team, and the spirit and camaraderie within the team was excellent. Their hard work and dedication meant they were a credit to their country.

I'd like to thank all the players; Scott Brown, Matthew Chilvers, Alastair Daniels, Luke East, Alex Hopkinson, Peter Millar, Laura Campbell and Laura Wells, together with the coaches Bev Cairns and Matt Whitehead and Head of Delegation Lesley Whitehead. Together they made me feel part of something that was really special.

Great Britain ended the tournament with a total of eight medals to finish a very successful week for the team. 

Read a report from the tournament here. 

Martin Etheridge