The Refereeing Conundrum

Who would be a ref? It’s a tough job, but someone has got to do it!

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Who would be a ref? It’s a tough job, but someone has got to do it!

Having been forced into refereeing several matches at the recent Canary Wharf Squash Classic & Dulwich Open it gave me a fresh chance to look at the job from the other side of the glass.

You have three fast moving objects (Ball, Player A and Player B) in a confined space and have to make, what is ultimately, a subjective decision that probably one of the parties (not the ball!) will disagree with! The brain has to process all the information provided and come up with the ‘fair’ result, which in some cases is not what the black & white ‘Rules of Squash’ would suggest is the correct course of action.


It also gave me the opportunity to observe the interaction between the players and the referee, whether it be a fellow player or qualified official in the hot seat, and this is often not help by either party, particularly in the latter case. I don’t know if is written down anywhere, but I am pretty sure the referee is there to ensure that the rallies, and ultimately the match, reach the correct conclusion and that the best referees are the ones that you don’t notice.

ScreenHunter_07 Apr. 02 22.07Taking the referees first, it seems that there are too many times when they feel the need to offer a reason behind their decision, which can only lead to trouble.

Given the aforementioned three fast moving objects there are going to be many situations when the outcome will fall within that grey area, ie. it could be one of two or even, on the odd occasion, three decisions. At that point it is impossible to explain the decision, as that very same decision the next day would elicit a different decision by the same referee and require a different response! So by explaining it the referee is setting him or herself up to be shot down.

It is not just the explanation area that sometime needs a bit of fine tuning, but the general handling of the players.

There is no doubt it is a fine line between being too relaxed and too officious but it’s the referees that manage to find that balance that are often the ones that the players are happy to see in the chair, and it can often have little to do with their decision making! Poor handling of the players simply heightens both players’ scrutiny of the decisions causing frustration & confrontation even when they are correct!

ScreenHunter_08 Apr. 02 22.09Just as referees sometimes need to work hard on ensuring a trouble free match, players often make a rod for their own back.

Given the ‘grey’ area that exists in dealing with these three fast moving objects, let’s say that due to human error referees (whether they be officials or players) make 10% bad calls. If the players only ask the individual to make 10 decisions in the match, there will be only 1 bad call. If, however, the players force that same individual into making 100 decisions then they will, using the same hypothesis, make 10 bad calls. Now those are match changing stats from an individual who would have had no impact on the match!

There is no simple answer to this conundrum, that much is clear from the millions that are thrown at football with the same decision discussions on Match of the Day week in week out – but what is clear is that both parties can help improve things.


18 thoughts on “The Refereeing Conundrum”

  1. Tim, good piece.

    One thing I would add is that refs are often their own worst enemies and you touch on it with engaging the players. I can’t remember which tournament it was, but one ref was brilliant because he used the systems early on to stamp his authority on the match. Very early, a player queried a decision, the ref simply asked, “Do you want a video review?”, answer “No!”, ref, “Play on then!”, player gobsmacked and got on with it. It happened again shortly afterwards same outcome and that was the last time it happened in the match. Players do need to take responsibility for their behaviour, but as that ref showed, they can help themselves.

    Don’t envy any refs though!

  2. This “management” of the players is very difficult with the 3 ref system… where in the past, a ref could stamp his mark on a game, by consistently applying his interpretation of the laws, now he can’t do that, as decisions get averaged out…

    for example, a player who is fishing for a lot of cheap lets may be put off asking if he is given a couple of early no lets. Even if those no lets are thought to be harsh, the players will accept it if the ref is consistent, and it may mean the players work round each other, and we end up with a better game. With the 3 ref system though, it may be that the player gets lets everytime, and we end up with a messy game, even though you could argue that the decisions were actually all technically correct.

  3. Go back to the single ref imho and a video ref for appeals.

    That way one person controls the whole match and calls what they see..

    Only calls of down, tin and out need to be really reviewed imo because the slow mo, of the latest TV cameras is that good to see, when these situations occur, and they could be the change of a game or match if the call is correct or incorrect by the review system.

    Also referreeing can be quite tiresome when 8 hrs, spilt between four referrees are at a top event and they don’t get enough rest from watching too much squash, and the brain is tired and cannot, respond to two lively individuals and a 160mph squash ball.

    I’ve often seen refs get squash tired and make mistakes because of this in the one and three refs system..

    Maybe this also can be addressed.

  4. Possible problems in refereeing is too many + 65 yrs who are clueless and the top of the referees are happy to be part of a old boys club who keep much better refs out of the chance of improving

  5. Hi Its always the referree’s fault, only the Pros are human and the referees are not!!!!!!

    Reading Yr article Tim, It shows that U hv not read the 20 rules of the WSF ( each with sub divisions of course) n Rules 15 requires all players to be exemplary on court and as the earlier post states, once the referee’s imposed his firmness early in the game, he is unlikely to lose it.

    FYI,, that when we are were training and earning our badges as a referee, we were told to explain, for our decisions.

    When I last attended a WSF referee’s convention in K.L. in 1997, when invited for a meeting with the referees only two Pro’s turn up , they were Chris walker and Den Jenson, n when shown a chilp of a match btw Jahangir V Chris Ditmar and were press for an answer, both gaVE A “NO LET” decision . When shown the correct answer, they reply was ” good luck to u referees.

  6. simple problem with refs – inconsistency.

    simple problem with players – only see a decision from self interest.

    1. I cannot see the logic in 3 refs making a subjective decision then having that decision overruled by a single ref using the video reply. Instead why not allow the original 3 refs to view the replay and change their decision if they deem it necessary. Then you would only need 3 refs per game instead of four.
      What I also find illogical is that you can appeal a subjective situation but you cannot appeal a purely objective decision like an out of court or a double bounce.
      I mean that is the time when the camera can do a really good job and yet we don’t use it !!

  7. I have seen refs become downright OBNOXIOUS when they talk to players and they can help themselves and the game by not rudely telling them to shut up in so many words but by remaining courteous while still encouraging play to continue. I think you’ll find the players will be more willing to get on with it if you stay polite and respectful rather than arrogantly talking down to them and telling them to shut up. Its also better for the fans.

    1. Hi Jonathan, U not the JP as we have known are U?????? and to yr reply It takes to hands to clap and also for yr Knowledge once the Players are on court n it shud be the players behaving and not the other way around. and do u know why Squash misses out at the 2012 Olympics !!!!!!, IOC delegation happen to be in London, and was astonished and amused to witnessed a squash match with abt 100 decision argued btw to Pros. That my friend blew their mind out……..Cheers

  8. I might as well throw in my regular thruppence worth here – I really believe that the 3 referee system creates more problems than it solves, and a return to a single official, possibly amended to be a referee with a marker/assistant, would be better all round – certainly more consistent, which always seems to be what players say they want.

    The video review system is good, but applying it on top of three referees makes everyone look silly far too often. One referee plus a video ref would work well. (and I think you should get two reviews per game, forgetting the extra one at 10-all).

    However, some referees use the video review as a weapon – “you wanna review?” or “review or play on” which does nothing for player/referee relations. And I won’t mention talking to players using just their surnames … oops I just did.

    1. Both the original article and the responses it has drawn reveal the huge gap between the referees on the one hand, and the players and spectators on the other. That gap needs to be bridged — and the best way to start that process would be to get the referees and players together to discuss the interpretation and application of the Rules. At the moment that does not happen.
      Reliance on current technology is misguided: the video image of a squash court greatly distorts its dimensions: the distance between the short-line and the front wall is shortened by two-thirds (!), while the width of the court is reduced by about 5 feet. It would thus seem rather unwise to base a refereeing decision on such a misleading image (as people so often do in this Forum).
      P.S. Steve: referees are trained to use family names only — for obvious reasons.

      1. No, I don’t mean they should refer to the players as “Joe”, I mean that the current referee who directly addresses the players as “Bloggs” rather than “Mr Bloggs” is downright rude.

        “Bloggs, are you asking for a let?” Rude.

        1. Referees are suppose to address Players as Mr. Family name and those who don’t are simply rude or r those who simply attend to get a badge and for the sake of it.

          Good referees are those who make and effort to constantly look up the rulr book and be updated on current trends.

          Much need to be done for both the Referees and Pros, in order to marry both with the same line of thinking as squash is a very fast game, as such both parties are much at fault.

          One must note that Continuing of play and a gentle man on court are the both a must in order for the game to be develop into a sport, where winning is important as well as to be able to lose graciously , take in mind that both referees and Pros are as human as U n me, plus nobody is God on match day.

          Having made my point, who is doing anything abt the above , other wise status quo will remain as it is , twenty years ago and twenty or more years later. Cheers

  9. As a district referee trying to get my national referee badge, I am disappointed with the number of attempts one has to make due to the lack of attaining the number of call’s required to be assessed as passing.

    I attend many junior squash events around the world, (my son is highly ranked in NZ and I have been fortunate to have support from friends and family to take him where he wants (and needs) to be in order to fulfill his ambition to be world number #1)

    I am pleased to say that the junior world of squash behavior is pretty good 99% of the time, but sometimes the behavior of the parents towards referee’s is something to be desired. It is my experience, that the older the age group, the worse the behavior.

    In senior games, I haven’t really experienced much poor behavior except where two “older” A graders decide they need to win come hell or high water. I usually end up playing the “really?” card which usually brings them back to reality.

    I didn’t use to give explanations, but the referee assessing me one time, told me I should give more detail ‘for clarity” when making a decision. I tend to make my calls pretty quick after appeal, so that they know I am right onto the action. Delay usually makes players think you’re not sure, so they try and persuade you. That’s when explanations ‘seem’ to be needed, but I tend to try not to allow that to happen.

    I found the referees in Australia were very good, last week while at the Australian Junior open 2013, as were the kids.

  10. Nice piece Tim, not an easy one to tackle.

    I’m also in favour of the 1 referee, provided he or she is capable & experienced enough to tackle the job. In the last 12months i’ve witnessed some very sub-par refereeing, except for a few that are stand-out exceptions. These few capable referees that have obviously the respect of the players should school the rest and try to bring them up to par.

    For me however, the major part of the story that was lightly brushed over is the behaviour and attitudes of some of the games best players. Non-squash players don’t understand the cultures that have existed in our sport forever. Namely, belittling referees. I was also guilty of giving referees some stick about their calls, mostly due to frustration with my own performances. But being a bit older & able to take some perspective, I realised for the non-squash community (including the IOC), this just seems bizarre.

    The allowable queries, replies and manner of addressing the referees should be strictly monitored and if need be open to fines from the PSA World Tour. I know that arguing with referees happens in some other sports, but it’s not so obvious as in a squash match when the crowd are much closer to the action and every little murmur can be heard clearly.


    1. There has been always to different cultures since , my last WSF conference !997 , on one hand the pros hv a culture and learning the WSF rules by ear and not my referees upgrade themself once they earn their badge ( most are doing it out of the love of Squash as they are not good enough to turn pro. n refereeing was the nest best thing,) most referees are part timers, unless for those on the circuit are retired. ( whose going pay for a referee full time and how;s much?)

      The status quo is still the same day and unless somethings done will be the same for years to come.

      Rule 15 is one rule that no player has ever read ans as I hv earlier said most referee are not only not up to par but also afraid to be firm and issue , the conduct 17 rule accordingly.

      One last point as the game has gone point per rally. have yet to hear a Foot Fault called for the last 15 years are so, as the game has gone faster and hv seen so many foot faults and not a single called. Check it out in all the major tournaments videos since the implementation of points per rally and prove me wrong…….Cheers

  11. It seems that everyone is forgetting that refereeing, in any sport, has always been subjective at some point. In squash, where everything goes at lightning speed, will always have the grey areas as Tim is saying. And the errors at some point.

    The problem is actually the individuals that can’t accept a wrong decision. By reading all the comments above, we can see that no one is convinced with one, three or four referees system.

    There’s been an improvement when the replay has been introduced, and that is already something.

    1. This on going Saga with never end, Squash is the only game with two gladiators in a boxed up

      enclosure n was brought up to be a Gentleman’s game. During the two JK era , there’s only a

      handful of bad losers. These days most of the sore losers , followed suit and argued their way and forgot the WSF rules , In Squash U must make an appeal with a raised Hand or A “let please” or a “please” .( too many to name.) more so before u open yr mouth or the back glass door.

      The best ambassador for Squash Is Mr John White, ( sadly he’s retired ) a gentleman true out his career In PSA , playing the game continuously and with minimum fuss and even lost the British Open to David Palmer, ( with Match ball in sight and Palmer at his mercy , could hv won it on a legitimate “Stroke Ball” , he refused to take it and played on and when on to lose match to the man known as the ” Marine”) after the game he was asked , sis he regret it. his answer was “NO” and shud he faced with the same situation again , he will repeat his act and play on again. That is the mark of a True Warrior n Champion and sporting the kind of Olympic Spirit that will get Squash into 2020. Cheers

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