‘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.
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’.
“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.”
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Pictures courtesy of PSA World Tour and Facebook