Officials need to be in much better positions, make themselves heard, and don’t allow any backchat
By DAVID PEARSON- Squash Mad Guest Columnist
In his second blog for Squash Mad, David Pearson (coach of world champion Nick Matthew, world No.2 Laura Massaro and England captain Jenny Duncalf, among others) wades into the debate on referees. Recent incidents on tour and the January appointment of Lee Drew as PSA referees director have thrown a spotlight on to the issue. DP has some forthright views on how squash can diffuse the fractious relationship between players and the decision-makers behind the back wall.
There will always be an issue in squash with lets and strokes. That’s a matter of opinion, and not what I think we should focus on when talking about referees.
The thing that I notice most of all is the lack of control that the referee has over the players.
To me a good referee is a person who doesn’t let the players intimidate him. Even the score should be read out with a voice that shows authority and personality.
What they’re not doing is thinking about the way they speak, how they come across and how they assert themselves – not like a headmaster, just so the players respect them for the way they control a match. That’s the missing ingredient; man-management.
The Australian referee Damien Green is fantastic at this. He controls the players superbly. They feel that the tone of voice he uses is friendly but firm. He has control of the match.
I’d say to Lee [Drew] that he’s got to get referees to understand how to present themselves to players; the way they speak, the way they deal with dissent. A rugby referee is a good analogy. They let the players talk a bit, then they firmly explain why they’ve made their decision and tell the players to get on with it.
There are a few more practical issues with our current refereeing system. Firstly, the referees work for the WSF, not the PSA, so we’ve got two separate governing bodies that aren’t necessarily on the same page.
The other major issue is this: referees don’t get paid. They travel around the world simply because they love doing it. If they were offered, say, £1,000 to go to Chicago for a week, then people might start to think it’s probably worth doing. It would make it a more professional set-up. At the moment there’s simply no incentive. No ex-players go into refereeing. What does that tell you?
Age is another thing I’d highlight. There are no young, dynamic people going into refereeing. They’re all aged 60-70. There’s no young blood coming in. Some of them who were doing it when I was a kid are still around now!
I also think some referees feel slightly uncomfortable around the players, as if they lack a bit of confidence. John Massarella and Roy Gingell, for example, do a reasonable job of keeping control and asserting authority, but some of the others get edgy around the players, which doesn’t help.
Also, the current three referee system may need some tinkering with, in my view.
They should have one guy who makes the decisions on lets and strokes, another operating the video review system, then two other referees should be at the front or the side of the court looking for balls that are out or down.
You get a really good view when you look from the side. You could have one on the backhand, one on the forehand, a main referee and video referee. There would still be four people involved, but the decision making is more clearly defined.
Having said all that, the players have got a lot to answer for. There should be no dissent, in an ideal world. If the referee says it’s a let, the player should get on with it, even if he or she disagrees.
The bottom line is, when Peter Nicol played John White there was barely a let, because the sporting behaviour of both was superb. Geoff Hunt was the same. But often players do make life difficult for referees.
This isn’t a recent problem. When I played, I too was guilty of challenging the refs. I don’t think players have got any more or less disrespectful over the years. It’s about the same as it always was.
Unfortunately, it’s become our sport’s culture. It’s become far too acceptable to argue with referees. It’s not a good scene. If you were walking down the street and a person spoke to you like players speak to referees sometimes, you’d end up having a fight.
What’s interesting is that in the final of the Commonwealth Games or World Championships, a high-profile televised game with a lot of people there, players argue with the referee much more rarely.
They’re stopping what they do naturally when it’s a big event because they know it doesn’t make for a good spectacle.
Where you see a lot of poor behaviour is in the early rounds of events where no-one is really around. What’s quite interesting is, when they have to behave, they behave.
David Palmer could sometimes be an argumentative individual but when he played Peter Nicol in the 2006 Commonwealth Games final, he never uttered a word. If that game was in the final of the Chicago Classic, it may have been a different story.
My solution to these behaviour problems would be a set of clearly defined conduct rules that set out consequences.
If, for example, you swear or blaspheme on a squash court, that should automatically be a conduct stroke, not a warning.
If you open a door to come off court and talk to a referee, it should be a conduct stroke straight away.
If you barge into someone’s back and move them forwards, that should also be a conduct stroke.
Once players understand those simple rules, they won’t do it. It would create a very simple atmosphere. I think that’s what our sport hasn’t got. Get rid of the warnings, just introduce simple rules.
It’s really important, whether you are a referee, a coach or a selector, that the players are never in charge.
You cannot let players manipulate you.
As soon as you do that, you’re finished.
Interview by MIKE DALE
Pictures from the Squash Mad archive and image of David Pearson with Nick Matthew courtesy of England Squash and Racketball