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Paul Harris - Chief Shearing Referee

Like most sports in this country, shearing is held together by volunteers who are passionate about the industry who generously give a tremendous amount of time each year.

Allow me to introduce a classic example, the Chief Shearing Referee for the 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Invercargill in February, Mr Paul Harris.

Harris follows the well-worn path from competitor to official. He's been involved in the industry his entire working life.

"I competed reasonably successfully in shearing competitions for 15 years, although I found it a bit tough in the Open grade. They were a bit fast for me," he said. "Becoming a judge was just something that happened. I got approached to help out and enjoyed it. That was about 25 years ago."

Like most you speak to in shearing, for Paul it's the people who make it all worthwhile.

"It's all about keeping up friendships. A lot of the guys who are judging now are people I shore with and against in my younger days, so you can keep that relationship going. We have a pretty good team throughout the country and you get a lot of travel out of it so it's been pretty good to me," he said

And now it's taken him all the way to the top job at a World Championship.

"As Chief Shearing Referee, you are basically in charge of all the judges. I have a Head Judge as well and between us we look after all the judges, fill the rosters and run a workshop before the Championship start so we can get a lot of judges from other countries fully conversant with the international rules," Mr Harris said.

Each country has the opportunity to provide a judge, although not all do. Along with the Chief Woolhandling Referee, New Zealander Peter Lange, Paul has the job of bringing together judges from all over the world with different styles and in some cases different languages, and moulding them into a consistent cohesive officiating crew.

"There are judges who come to World Champs to learn. They come to New Zealand because we lead the way in competition shearing, so it's a good opportunity for them to come here and learn all about it and be part of the biggest event in shearing," he said.

As host nation, New Zealand provides the largest contingent with ten shearing officials. Joining Harris is his Head Judge John Fraser (Oamaru) along with Graeme Twose (Waikari), Donald Johnston (Oamaru), Matthew Mainland (Southland), Philip Parker (Southland), Bruce Walker (Owaka), Ken Payne (Balclutha) and Ronnie King (Pahiatua) and Todd Oliver (Aria).

The kiwi contingent will likely have a heavy workload early in the championships but due to international rules that will change as the competition goes on.

"We have the All Nations to start the competition, so we will probably be using more of our New Zealand judges to help the overseas guys, but once we get to the World Champs, the host country can only provide a third of the judging panel at any one time," Harris explained.

So, what makes a good shearing judge?

"It's much the same as shearers themselves, some judges handle the pressure of competition really well and others don't. Things happen pretty quickly, you've got to have the ability to make decisions quickly, accurately and concisely especially when you are dealing with guys who are shearing sheep in well under a minute and lambs in around 40 seconds, things happen fast," he said.

It's not hyperbole to say that judging will decide who will be crowned World Champion at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill in February with each shearer's points calculated by a combination of time, board and pen penalties, the latter two assessed by the judges for offences including wool left on or cuts on the sheep.

But, like any officiating it really comes down to one thing. "It's about being consistent and getting everyone on the same page," Harris said.

Naturally, he wouldn't be drawn on a World Championship winner ("We are totally unbiased, there to officiate the competition and everybody's a winner actually,") but he does admit to being excited to be part of an historic event.

"It's quite an awesome experience to get up on the board in a big final," he said. "It's the next best thing to competing."

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.
Chief referees: Left - Paul Harris (Shearing) and Peter Lange (Woolhandling). Photos courtesy of Shearing Sports New Zealand.