Refereeing Consistency

Should referees always accept players calls on their own pickups, asks Phillip Marlowe

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Something that has always bothered me from a refereeing perspective is the inconsistency regarding accepting players’ calls, says Phillip Marlowe.

When a player calls his or her shot down, we applaud their honesty and accept the call without question – at least I’ve never seen any referee not accept a player’s call except me once and that caused a shit storm in that match, I can tell you.

Author: Phillip Marlowe

Having started playing squash in my late teens, it was clear that I was never going to reach the heights of my dreams. I did, however, claim the Guinness World Squash Endurance Record of 122 Hours and 44 Minutes. After that Squash became my life. Phillip's full profile

15 thoughts on “Refereeing Consistency”

  1. I disagree. Players will be right more often than the referee just by their proximilty to the ball if nothing else. The referee should never over rule a players choice to call a shot down or a ball out. It is the players match, not the referee’s. The referee is there to ensure a fair outcome, but lets encourage fair play and fair players as much as possible, there are too many double bounces as it is your approch might result in even more as the referees are not best placed to over rule a player except to ensure fairness to their opponent.

    1. I don’t want to respond to each and every one of your point because I don’t want to be argumentative.

      And whilst, I agree that it’s the players’ match and a referee is there to make fair, if you think the players will be right more often, why do you accept a referee’s call when the player says it’s up but the referee thinks it’s down?

      To be fair, it should be consistent. A double bounce is never good, but players are not always right.

    2. I agree with Anita. While consistency may be a virtue, it is most certainly a lesser virtue than honesty and fair-play, which is what the player calling his shot down is displaying.

      Even on a practical level, the author’s suggestion may break down, as MikeR below points out.

        1. We do accept the reverse, when as sometimes happens, the opponent too feels that the shot was up. Offhand, I can remember at least two instances where a wrong call of “Down” had to be reversed because both players felt the pickup was good. These happened in top-level PSA matches where players have much to lose by being magnanimous.

          The real problem occurs when the players differ on the pickup–here the referee’s call has to be final, unless it is over-ruled in the 3-ref system by the side referees.

          Bonafide mistakes will keep happening whenever humans are involved, but we should not compound the errors when an amicable solution is offered by the players that promotes fair-play.

  2. I honestly don’t see this working – if a player calls his own ball down or not up, and the referee over-rules to give him a point or a let, then an awful lot of players would – or should – serve out or not attempt to return the serve on the next point.

    Which would undermine the referee’s authority much more effectively than simply accepting the player’s call even if the ref thinks he’s wrong …

    1. Yes, if a player is absolutely convinced he made the right call and the referee had overruled him, then there is the possibility that they would serve out on the next point.

      But does that happen much now?

      I am sure the same situation happens now: a player gets the point they don’t think they deserve, i.e. a stroke on a let call when they believe it should have been a let, and do they serve out then? I don’t think they do.

      The least we could do is try it for a few months in club match situations and see the response. After that we could consider moving it to tournaments etc.

  3. I tend to agree with you Phillip. It’s not the player’s position to call the ball down, it’s the ref’s, as clearly stated in the rules. I don’t buy this ‘it’s the players’ game’ argument. Yes, they’re the ones playing the game, no they’re not the ones arbitrating. There is no veto rule as far as I can see, otherwise, why have a referee at all. That said, it wouldn’t work in practise!

  4. Thought, if player A calls the ball down, (effectively interrupts his opponent, Player B, with verbal / physical actions) Player A should forfeit the point anyway?

    Possibly a bit of a blind alley, I think there are better areas for us to get involved with as regards refereeing than this. 🙁

    1. Yes, player A currently forfeits the point, but perhaps he o she could raise their hand and continue to play, just like they do when they think the other player has made an error.

      I agree that there are more important issues to deal with regarding refereeing, but I don’t see that the issues need to be solved sequentially. Address what needs to be addressed.

  5. You say, “I’ve never seen any referee not accept a player’s call except me once.” You want consistency? How much more consistent can you get than that?

    The crucial issue, which you’ve somehow managed to disregard, is that a player calling a double bounce against himself is acting against his own self-interest. There’s no motivation for him to make such a call except for a sense of fairness. When he claims he’s gotten a pickup that the official calls down, obviously the opposite is true, and the referee’s response has to reflect this. There’s nothing inconsistent about treating the two situations differently.

  6. I fail to see one good reason for this. you mention “consistency” . Surely the aim with refereeing to get more decisions right, rather than have consistency. And what do you mean by consistency – the situations are different, as someone has already mentioned. It seems to me, that you are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Honestly, how often do you think that a player calls his ball down, when it is really up? All you are doing is introducing another thing for players and refs to disagree on.

    if you really want to implement “consistency” of refereeing, how about abandoning the 3 ref system, and returning to the old style. One ref can stamp his authority on a game. Its usually pretty clear what he will or won’t count as interference, and the players can adapt to it – whereas with 3 different refs, you end up with the players not knowing where the boundaries are. Some of the worst matches I have ever seen for interference have happened since the advent of 3 refs, and its because a single ref can’t intepret the rules properly to control behaviour of the players… but thats probably a subject for another Carte Blanche… 🙂

  7. First of all, creating a mission of “we definitely do not want more lets in squash” is an extremely dangerous thing to prioritize or try to achieve. The priority should instead be “if its a let it should be a let, if it’s a stroke it should be a stroke”, and to hell with whether people ‘like’ it or not. If ratings go down so be it – the rules can’t be ‘bought’. Even if squash should go extinct because people are too dumb or ‘morally challenged’ to understand this, then let the chips fall where it may.

    I am not even going to start trying to draw obvious parallels to the millions of problems in society caused by violating exactly this principle – big or small, the principle stays the same – it’s always a sellout.

    It’s remains a battle between what people would ‘like’ (mostly because of various perceived personal gains) and that which is required by a fair process.

    Secondly, I agree – players can also make mistakes when calling their own shots or their opponents shots.

    Some comments here are pointing out that players are, most of the time, in a better position than the referee to see what’s actually going on.

    In terms of being closer to the ball and therefore seeing the bounce of the ball better: This point is only true if the player has a stable awareness (like the ref) and his attention is on the ball at that moment. I play squash myself and I can tell you that while playing there are taxing demands on my little quantum of awareness which are not made on a referee.

    In terms of lets and strokes because of positioning, consider that the referee obviously has a wider more inclusive view of what’s happening, while each player is caught in his own smaller perception of the bigger picture.

    But back to the point: Consider this: Can a person with an important vested interest in the result truly be trusted to make a call on his own pickup? You are playing as a professional in a tournament where careers and money and livelihoods etc. are at stake for the players – and we want to trust the calls a person makes because “he/she is closer and can see better”? Really?

    This is like trusting a scientist working for a company selling lead-based gasoline telling you there is nothing to worry about.

    It’s commendable and worth mentioning when a player calls his own shot down – but the real question is… why is this extraordinary and worth mentioning? Shouldn’t this be the norm? If it was the norm for players to be scrupulously honest as far as possible, then nobody would find it worth mentioning. Yet we do mention it and make a big deal out of it.

    The obvious solution, since you have two opponents oppositely affected by the result of a call, is to test the consensus between them when the referee is unsure. In other words, if the referee is unsure and the replay is inconclusive, but both players agree or disagree, then that should stand, why not? If both disagree (one may be lying, who knows) then there is no option but to play a let.

    This is the best that can be done. Saying on top of this that we should try and avoid lets is confusing the issue and is totally irrelevant. Forget the corporations trying to make money from squash and thinking that this is good for squash so let’s support this incentive… you are not supporting, you are selling out.

    However, expect the level of noise from the uncomprehending peanut gallery to intensify, expect to be seen as as ‘a weak’ referee for consulting the players or by being willing to change your opinion…

  8. Personally I hate refereeing, I know the rules but things happen fast and I make my calls on what I saw and know I get them wrong at times.
    I have always been of the opinion that the game is between the two players and if the players agree on a call then they can override the referees decision. I have seen a player call there shot out and am almost certain it was in but leave the call up to them, if they wish to call it out that is there choice.
    Only my view and opinion.

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