Odd Objects Review & WHEA Rule Changes: should we demand more from strongman promoters?

Odd Objects Review & WHEA Rule Changes: should we demand more from strongman promoters?

I listened to the latest Odd Object’s podcast with Shane Jerman this morning while I was walking my dog, and it prompted me to finish this blog post I’ve had sitting in my drafts for a few weeks. I had the bare bones of the idea, but it just didn’t have the right frame and this podcast feels like a natural segue into what I was trying to say. Shane and Tommy touch on a number of topics within strongman, but the story that struck a cord was Shane talking about why he stopped competing at national level competitions in the UK. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear the full details, but the crux of it was promoters making last minute (bad) decisions and not treating the competition or athletes with the respect they deserved. Shane had poured his heart and soul into a prep, but the promoters didn’t set up athletes for success. It’s a kick in the teeth when you’ve spent 12+ weeks dedicating a lot of time and energy preparing for something. You should definitely listen to the podcast to hear their full conversation!

The original blog post I wanted to write was how we demand more of strongman promoters in a productive and fair way, within the context of WHEA announcing rule changes after athletes made complaints online. I was sifting through WHEA’s Facebook when researching the last blog post about the natty pathway, and I saw they’d announced some updated discipline rules. It was posted that the WHEA board,

 ‘had a close look to past World Championships overall… based on the notes we have updated some parts of our discipline rules and other rules… to be able to offer even better competitions along with having proper tools to note unsportmanship behavior.’ 

Due to the timing, this was mostly likely in response to controversy surrounding last minute score changes at WHEA World’s, which some athletes took to social media to discuss their grievances. The rule in particular reads, 

WHEA Unsportsmanlike Behaviour Rule

I’ll start by saying that athletes should always treat promoters and competition organisers with respect. Most competitions are not particularly profitable, organisers are largely in it because they love the sport. We do ourselves, and fellow athletes, a disservice if we cannot conduct ourselves professionally. Mistakes can be made, we’re all human, and it’s important to treat others with the kindness you would expect from others.


This is a bizarre rule to enforce and I was genuinely gobsmacked reading it, especially in the context of athletes discussing perfectly reasonable grievances. What behaviour is considered ‘unsportsmanlike’ is a grey area and probably open to interpretation by WHEA. The focus of the rule is public speaking via social media or articles, which at its core seems to say ‘don’t say mean things about us on the internet.’ Perhaps the rule should have clarified false comments which disrepute the association and/or events. Are we to assume that even if comments are true and correct, the fact that they disrepute the organisation means you are eligible to be banned for a fixed duration? Athletes should be able to hold organisers accountable without fear of a ban. Strongman administration is largely inconsistent and I’d argue that sometimes athletes have a fair point to make. We all want the sport to grow and for competitions to be an enjoyable experience. Personally I didn’t see the announcement of this rule as working towards that by preventing athletes from speaking about their experiences.

Reading this rule change left me with more questions than answers; how do we as athletes ask more of strongman promoters in a fair and productive way? There’s no strongman union, we can’t raise it with HR. One cool thing I’ve seen recently is the Scottish Strongwoman League (SSL), which is looking to standardise grassroots-level strongman in Scotland. Although it would be great for the general structure of comps and rules to be standardised, the biggest problems are those last minute, spur-of-the-moment decisions that are in motion before you’re able to really say anything. If the promoter changes an event the morning of the competition because they haven’t got the right kit, it’s either pull out or just accept what you’ve been given. Which really sucks when you’ve been drilling a specific event. Plus, competing in this sport is pretty expensive and it’s okay to be disappointed if the experience you were promised hasn’t been delivered. We’ve all grown a bit tired of the ‘this is strongman’ spiel as justification.

The hilarious thing is these same promoters will expect a lot from athletes. Later on in the Odd Object’s podcast, both Tommy and Shane remarked on the common practice of rules meetings feeling like a stern scolding from the promoters before you’ve even started. It’s not all promoters… but it happens a lot. My first competition, ran by Ben Glassock, was a dream. Instructions were clear, everything was timely, he led us all with genuine kindness. Which might be a small act on his part, but it meant the world to a first-time competitor who felt like she might vomit from nerves. As I graduated to more ‘serious’ competitions, I started to experience these more negative rules meetings. Ranging from half playful, half misogynistic comments about us ladies loving to moan, to straight out threats that if you drop that axle bar from overhead without controlling it to the mat, you’re paying for it.

I think I’d started to think this was normal; maybe Ben was the outlier? Was he just being particularly nice to us because we were new? Then I did my first Kaos competition and realised oh wait, it is possible to run a rules meeting and not be a dick about it. The first event was log press for reps; anticipating some instruction about not wrecking the kit, Luke came out with “your safety is the most important thing to us.”

Sorry, what?

Yep, we were told not to worry about the log. If we needed to dump the log from overhead because we couldn’t stabilise or lock it out, just drop it as safely as you can. “The log is replaceable, you are not.” I remember standing in that moment feeling genuine admiration for Luke and Rhi’s respect for us. It was an in-person qualifier for OSG, and Rhi made a careful effort to highlight the magnitude of what this meant to a lot of us. Having the chance to take part at OSG is a huge deal, and we’d all worked really hard to try to earn a spot that day. And it was a fantastic comp! Well organised, everyone had a good time, and some amazing feats of strength across the classes. Moments like this highlight that mutual respect just works. No one needed to be told off like naughty school children, both sides were invested in the comp being a success. The reason everyone speaks so highly of Kaos competitions is because Luke and Rhi know what athletes need, which at its core is just clarity and respect, and they listen to the community. Test us firmly but fairly.

It was interesting to listen to Shane’s experience of competing a few years ago, and he admitted that the UK strongman scene has changed in recent years for the better. When I originally read WHEA’s rule change I was initially disappointed and a bit angry at the response on behalf of the athletes that had travelled all the way to Finland for that competition. On reflection, I don’t think there’s really anything to do about it but let it take its natural course. Let promoters hang their own noose if they want to. There are so many competitions to choose from and there are fantastic people in the sport who lead by example. Word spreads, athletes know who runs good competitions and who doesn’t.

Comment below your positive experiences with strongman promoters in your time as a competitor! I’d love to hear about those times that really left a mark on you for the better.

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1 comment

I love how much thought the quality of the sport of strongman is getting lately. All of us thinking and discussing is only going to make thing so much better. A few snags or weird choices along the way for sure haha, but I think it’s just going to keep getting better.

Tommy Lovell

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