Our star players (and the fans) deserve better than this
By ANDY WHIPP – Squash Mad Columnist
Squash has got to the stage where the standard of refereeing simply cannot be allowed to continue as it is.
Our top players, male and female, deserve better than this. They train for years and years, and make many sacrifices along the way, and should not have to worry about the outcome of major championships being decided by refereeing mistakes.
My main issue is with the video referee decisions. I love the concept of the video review system. It adds a new spectator-friendly dimension to our sport. It help the audience feel engaged with a new layer of suspense.
However…. the video referee decisions absolutely baffle me the majority of the time. They constantly get it wrong – so what is the point of having technology that we can’t use properly?
It’s all well and good watching a scenario play out in three different camera angles – but it seems like there’s a clueless individual watching them. And this person plays a massive role for the players on court, especially when the number of key decisions tend to increase toward the end of games and matches (the pressure points).
The central referee will often go directly to the video referee at these crucial moments. This seems like a sensible thing for the central referee to do given the magnitude of the situation – but it’s actually irresponsible when the video referee makes the wrong decision 75% of the time.
It’s not just ‘lets’ and ‘strokes’ which the video referee gets consistently wrong. They also struggle to decide what is a ‘double bounce’ or a ‘scoop’ off the side wall – when everyone watching at home can see what the correct call should be.
If this system, which I’ve already said is great for crowd engagement and a great addition to squash, cannot be relied upon to make correct decisions then it will not just harm the two players on court but seriously harm crowd interest.
Unless there is immediate action to improve things, then this system should be removed from our top, televised events. Let’s not forgot, televised events are the main advertising tool when marketing our sport to the world. And if our referees cannot get decisions right when they see three different angles in slow motion, then we as a sport look incompetent … and an incompetent sport will never be allowed in the Olympics!
The PSA own a marvellous product with the PSA World Tour and PSA Squash TV. It is the envy of many sports. The production quality is outstanding and innovative. They nail it with almost every aspect and continue to add new features.
Why, though, do the PSA not take charge of every aspect of their product? They palm off the refereeing responsibility to the WSF (World Squash Federation). Why do they not take control of this themselves?
I wrote recently of the need for professional referees. In a short space of time, that need appears to have taken on paramount importance.
One particular area of inconsistency which needs to be clarified is when a straight drive from the back corner hits either the side wall or the front/side wall corner join, and quickly comes into the middle of the court. The player who has just played their shot will have to move quickly out of the way, which inevitably involves being followed by the ball.
Players are quick, very quick, and they usually move out of the way quickly enough (over to the other side of the court), so their opponent has space to safely swing and make contact with the ball. This leaves the initial player out of position but that is what has to happen to give their opponent space to hit their shot.
This particular scenario results in inconsistent decisions from the refs in almost every match. Sometimes a ‘let’, sometimes a ‘stroke’, and sometimes a ‘no-let’. I offer a simple definition to clarify the situation for the referees.
If the ball has bounced before ‘Player 2’ is ready to hit the ball, we usually find that the other player (Player 1) has just about cleared enough space for Player 2 to hit the ball without hitting Player 1 with either the ball or their racket. This should be a let for safety.
There would be an argument to say ‘no-let’ as Player 2 has enough space to play their shot so in theory they should hit it, but this situation does happen very fast and Player 2 does have Player 1 in their immediate eye line, so a let is fair, and a decision which can be replicated time and time again. It can only be a stroke when Player 1 has not made enough effort to get out of the way, which is rare.
Now, if the ball has not bounced when Player 2 is ready to hit the ball, then we tend to find Player 1 has not had time to fully get out of the way, so this would be a stroke. Simple. We need to simplify these situations – because unless we have referees who are ex-high-level-players and who can distinguish between minutely different yet similar situations, then simplicity is the key.
There’s another scenario which can be simplified for our current crop of referees, and this is when a player could hit the ball but instead chooses to delay and delay their shot because they know their opponent is behind them. This is NOT a stroke!
Mostafa Asal did this several times last week. It’s a cheap and ugly way to win a point. If the ball would normally be struck by the player earlier then they must not wait until the ball reaches their opponent who is stuck behind them.
This situation should be a ‘let’, again for safety as the player could be in their eyeline when they want to play their shot. But, if a player does this consistently then a ‘no-let’ is justified.
Asal actually waited so long for the ball to strike his opponent that the ball was probably too far behind him and too low to play a decent shot anyway.
Encouraging players to play their shot (instead of looking for a cheap point via a stroke) should always be the requirement. If players are rewarded with cheap strokes it’s bad for our viewers, and hence, bad for marketing squash (not to mention infuriating to play against).
While we’re at it, let’s look at this towel situation!
I was under the impression that when this was first introduced there was a rule stating players could only ‘visit’ their towel box after a certain amount of rallies. I think maybe it was every eight points players ‘had the option’ to wipe down with their towels.
This would be a super-simple way of controlling time wasting. It has got out of hand, as there seem to be no rules and no guidelines. So any player can wipe down whenever they want in-order to have a rest, and as many times as they can get away with.
Again, simplify it so there are strict, and obvious rules with warnings and conduct points awarded for breaking them. Every eight points seems reasonable.
I have outlined a couple of situations which could easily be fixed and we’d quickly be on our way to consistent refereeing and valuable input from the video referee, instead of the current lottery for the players and spectators.
I still believe we need to encourage former professionals to become referees. Maybe if ex-pros were to act as the video referee, but we still used the current top officials as the central ref, might be the best place to start?
If we can fix the video referee system we will stop players arguing, too, because all the central referee ever has to say is “Accept the decision or ask for a video review”.
Players talking aggressively on court is on the rise again as they cannot have faith in the video referee, so they argue to try to influence the central referee for his next decision so that way, the video referee is not required, and to be honest, who can blame them?
Players and spectators need to have faith in their officials, and right now it’s at an all time low.
Something for Lee Drew to consider after he’s had five years in the job improving refereeing………
How Andy can help your club
AWsome Sports creator Andy Whipp is now offering squash consultancy / sports club consultancy. Given his many years’ experience of all things squash at every level of the sport, and after countless people asking for his advice on a range of squash and club matters, he has decided to use his expertise to offer a FREE squash consultancy service.
AWsome Sports are happy to help with league and club committee ideas and decisions, as well as squash advice to parents and professionals.
So if you need some general advice, inspiration, fresh ideas, or a mediator for your club or league committee debates – please contact Andy at [email protected] for more information.