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Friday, August 12, 2022

Nick Matthew Exclusive: The rules need to be much clearer to avoid shocking injuries like this one when Nouran Gohar drilled Hania El Hammamy’s leg

Alan Thatcher
Alan Thatcherhttps://squashmad.com
Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad, the Kent Open and co-promoter of the Canary Wharf Classic. Launched the Squash 200 Partnership to build clubs of the future. Talks a bit.

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‘As Rodney Martin said, it was no good the referee telling Gohar to effectively play the ball by awarding a no-let in this situation the first time around because this decision created nothing but the danger of her hitting the next one’
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Nick Matthew has added a voice of authority to the debate raging in squash this week after images went round the world showing the shocking damage to Hania El Hammamy’s leg after she was struck by a fierce shot from Nouran Gohar.

El Hammamy shared the images of her injuries on social media with the following comments: “Proud of who I am. Proud of being taught what sportsmanship looks like. Proud of having manners and ethics on court. Proud of this season, but let’s just wait for the next one.”

The incident followed a similar situation when Gohar was told “No Let” by the referee after choosing not to play her shot during the semi-finals of the CIB PSA World Tour Finals in Cairo.

When Gohar did play the ball, her opponent was in the way and the impact burst the skin on the top of El Hammamy’s calf.

Hania El Hammamy’s Facebook post

Matthew watched the match while on a coaching trip to the USA and posted some thoughts on Instagram. I asked him to expand on those comments and he kindly responded with a brilliant summary of the situation.

He said: “It’s a tough rule to police and although it’s got a lot of coverage this week it’s been a problem for a long time. I’ve seen matches won from 14-14 (in the old scoring to 15) where a player tapped the ball in to his opponent’s back and took the point and therefore the match.

“There wasn’t a mark left, like we saw on Hania, but the player who had been hit was ten times as furious let me tell you, and was later seen chasing his opponent out of the building! Said player hadn’t stopped for an ‘encroaching’ let in the same situation until then.

“I’ve also heard a story about students from Leeds University who came to play squash for the first time. One of the players accidentally hit their opponent with the ball as it was travelling to the front wall. Upon hearing this was a stroke they then proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes TRYING to hit each other with the ball!

“I know this is an extreme example but surely one that we shouldn’t have to navigate. The coach in question confided that he wishes he had told a white lie in that situation and said it was a safety let. However, wouldn’t it be easier if we had a simpler rule or guideline to follow?

“For me, in amateur squash it should be a let at all times, no questions asked. We need to educate the non-striker, particularly new players, about where they should stand for safety reasons and to promote continuous play. We don’t want to see balls being hit in the directions of eyes and faces or any body parts for that matter.

“As we get towards league and professional squash the waters are muddied a little but I propose this: Let’s play a let the first time a wide cross court comes round and a player stops for ‘safety reasons’.

Nick Matthew has dealt with plenty of traffic issues during a long career, and he is seen here in a mid-court tussle with Borja Golan in Chicago in 2016

“As Rodney Martin (Nouran Gohar’s coach) said, it was no good the referee telling Gohar to effectively play the ball by awarding a no let in this situation the first time around. Now I’m not condoning her behaviour (especially walking off the court very quickly and not showing any sympathy for her opponent) but the previous decision created nothing but the danger of her hitting the next one.

“From a coach’s perspective you can see the tactical conundrum surrounding this. A player can crowd the T and limit their opponent’s shot choice should they know it’s only going to be a let.

“But if the situation happens more than once, then the referee has to use every tool at their disposal (including video review) to decipher which player is at fault and act accordingly.

“I’ve long been an advocate of hearing what the referee is saying to the video referee (much like in rugby). As a spectator, if we can hear what is said, we can follow the line of thinking even if we don’t necessarily agree with the interpretation all of the time.

“In this instance, the ref would have to decide if the striker has room to play and therefore next time it’s a no let. OR, if the non striker fails to clear better, next time it’s a stroke against them.

“In my eyes it has to be like this. If it is always a stroke, the striker can abuse the rule and hold their shot slightly longer than normal so the non-striker commits to move slightly too early.

“We are talking about a game where 1/1000th of a second is crucial so in slow-motion this would look like a stroke every time. On the flip side, if we give no lets every time we are promoting potentially dangerous play.

“Ultimately the goal should be continuous (and safe) play, which in fairness has been the case in 99% of the female matches I’ve watched recently.”

Thank you, Nick, for a deeply thoughtful analysis.

What I really appreciate is the fact that Nick has taken the time to analyse the ramifications for the sport at every level, from beginners through to the world’s top players and everything in between.

The incident has led to some hurried debates in refereeing circles following months of discussions about issues surrounding Mostafa Asal.

While debating the wish that our leading players set an example by acting as role models for the sport, one referee replied: “I think the world is changing. Some of those values are being lost.

“In this incident you could see there was no love lost between the players and the referee needed to intervene.

“Also, the last time they played Hania came back from 2-0 down to win, and that match contained lots of diving and a few blood injury breaks which I understand left Nouran feeling quite aggrieved over.”

Squash Mad readers are invited to share their comments below. 

Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and Facebook


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  1. Nick Matthew says: ““In my eyes it has to be like this. If it is always a stroke, the striker can abuse the rule and hold their shot slightly longer than normal so the non-striker commits to move slightly too early.”

    Nick fails to realize that this is not ABUSE of the rule, it is simply the RIGHT of the striker which should be (and actually is) GUARANTEED by the rules, namely:

    1. The striker can play his/her shot WHENEVER HE WANTS (before the second bounce) and,
    2. MUST BE ABLE TO DO SO DIRECTLY to ANY part of the front wall to which he/she is aiming (provided that they are in position to play that shot).

    The non-striker HAS TO STAY CLEAR and if he moves too early, IT IS HIS/HER MISTAKE and his opponent is PERFECTLY ENTITLED to take advantage of this situation, just as what happens whenever the opponent is in breach of any other rule which limits the rights of the striker.

    What SHOULD happen instead is the following:

    1. If somebody plays a crappy shot that comes deep into the court, that person MUST MOVE AWAY FROM THE CENTER and take responsibility for what is HIS/HER bad shot. He/she then NO LONGER HAS THE RIGHT to occupy the center of the court.

    2. The ref’s should award a stroke if it was clear that the striker could have hit the opponent if playing directly to the part of the front-wall he/she was aiming for. The striker has the RIGHT as guaranteed by the rules to play directly to ANY part of the front wall, if he/she is able to do so.

    3. In addition, the ref’s should award a LET if the striker could have played a side-wall boast into his opponent. In fact, this could very well be a WINNING SHOT if the non-striker is trapped in the back and therefore even a STROKE should be awarded as a consequence. This is CORRECT since the non-striker is trapped because of his/her own BAD SHOT.

  2. The rules in this regard don’t need to change, they are perfect as they are already. They should just be applied exactly as written!

    If the modern refs keep on abusing these 2 rights of the striker by not even allowing a let when the striker stops, they are literally forcing the striker into dangerous play, for which the ref is actually solely responsible! By then awarding a ‘dangerous play’ penalty on top of everything else, they are compounding the ridiculousness of the situation.

  3. If the refs were more generous in handing out strokes in situations like this there would be no problem I think.
    All too often all you get is a let, or even a no let.
    If the player is deemed to have waited for too long then of course it’s a no let.

  4. I agree that this type of play needs to be a let for the first but let it come with a warning. Players that love this sport should be role models on and off the court regardless of their ranking or personal feelings toward other players. Perhaps professional players should be fined or points removed for unsportsmanlike behavior.

  5. I completely agree with Stefan. If players are allowed to cover bad shots by cutting off their opponent’s options the game doesn’t make sense. Referees should penalise accordingly, as already stipulated in the rules. Respect for your opponent is part of competition, but it works both ways.

  6. ​I agree with some posters that the referee did not apply the rules properly, not because of the front wall blockage, but because the safety of the players – a subset of fairness – is essential to this sport. Having said that, the rules allow a player to wait as long as he or she wants to swing at the ball before it bounces twice; there is no rule to prevent it. And strokes must be awarded when the opponent blocks any part of the front wall, except during a turn – except when after the player turns the opponent deliberately moves to block the shot so as to gain a point by being hit with the ball going directly to the front wall. In nearly 50 years of playing and 30+ years of officiating at every level of this sport I have never seen an opponent do that. Self preservation always kicked in! The problem here is that Gohar flouted any regard for Hammamy’s safety, so a conduct stroke against her should have been the outcome.

    Another ​bizarre front wall incident was in the 2022 Squash On Fire PSA tournament when Sabrina Sobhy won a match on a No​ L​et was given on Rachel Arnold’s appeal for a Stroke. She could have hit Sobhy with the ball anywhere on the front of her body as Sobhy ​was positioned ​seven feet from the front wall, an easy target in the middle of a wide “danger zone”. Go to 03:51 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDaMjqT0AUA. Sobhy won the match because of th​e decision​. She could have conceded the point to Arnold. Instead she paced around for several seconds with her hand ​over her mouth​, evidently​ in disbelief.

    In this case Hammamy deserved a ​Stroke ​owing to Gohar’s deliberate, dangerous​, unsporting​​ ​action. The rules should be changed so that if a player hits the opponent with a ball ​going to the front​ or side​ wall​​, then the player who ​has been​ struck should win the point, period. Keep the rule​s​ that​ (1) award a ​St​roke to the player who holds up instead of hitting the opponent ​directly in the way of the front wall, and (2) grant a Let for a shot that would have hit a side or back wall and been a good return. Players would ​quickly adapt and learn not to hit their opponents​. And they would get the deserved Strokes

    The only thing mentioned in this discussion that referees should not do is ​qualify shots ​in their lines of thinking ​as good or bad. That’s only a tactical concern for players, coaches (and crowds). Making qualitative judgements of shots would likely ​cause matches to ​devolve into chaos as officials conflated tactics and subjective, personal opinions of shot quality while objectively evaluating the continually shifting positions of the ball and players. Imagine telling Ali Farag, “you made a terrible shot which caused you to lose the rally!” Officials should judge interference only on the positions of the ball and the players at time of stoppage.

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