Monday, June 5, 2023

An Open Letter to new PSA referees’ chief Lee Drew

Canada's Shawn Delierre shakes hands with referee John Massarella
Canada’s Shawn Delierre shakes hands with ref John Massarella, but nobody is that close on a glass court

An Open Letter to Lee Drew: Make the Best Use of Three Referees
By MATT LOMBARDI – Squash Mad Columnist

Dear Lee,

It’s great news that you’re going to be Refereeing Director for the PSA. Officiating is such a contentious issue in pro squash – the PSA needs to address it proactively, and creating the new role looks like a step in that direction.

I suspect it’s going to be of a tough job, but it’s also an opportunity for you to make a major positive impact on the game. I hope you’ll have the leeway to test new ideas and implement changes. With that in mind, I want to share an anecdote and suggest one possible change.

I was lucky enough to be at Grand Central for this year’s ToC. On the first weekend I watched the second-round match between Peter Barker and Mathieu Castagnet from behind the front wall. You get a wonderful view there. Watching play from in front, with the action often only a few feet away, is a revelation.

Occasionally, though, the revelation isn’t a pleasant one. Early in the fourth game – I think the score was 4-3 Castagnet – Barker failed to get to a drop shot. The 40 or so onlookers around me all could see the ball bounce twice.

The refs, though, positioned 50 feet away behind the back wall, didn’t have such a good view. Unsure about the pickup, they decided to play a let. Everyone around me was stunned by the decision. The game would end with Barker winning 13-11. That point taken away from Castagnet had an impact on the game and the match.

The controversial clash between Peter Barker and the grounded Mathieu Castagnet
The controversial clash between Peter Barker and the grounded Mathieu Castagnet at the 2014 Tournament of Champions sparked plenty of debate

This raises an obvious question – so obvious that I’m sure I’m not the first one to ask it. When a court has four glass walls, why are the three referees located almost shoulder to shoulder behind the back wall?

From that position all they can offer are three opinions on the same perspective. Why not move one or two of them to other places around the court?

Where precisely they’d go would be subject to fine-tuning, but you’d want one of them near the front, probably along the side wall, to get a better view of pickups like Barker’s.

Doubters might argue that a ref can’t make accurate decisions on lets and strokes from such a viewpoint, but to my mind that’s hidebound thinking. Video review has clearly demonstrated the benefit of seeing play from multiple perspectives.

Relocating the refs would also make it more difficult for them to communicate with each other, but we’re living in the 21st century – there’s an app for that.

If these objections are more significant than I’m acknowledging, then put someone at the front strictly for the purpose of making calls on pickups and tins. That would mean yet another ref, but it would be worth it to end travesties like the Barker double bounce.

From your initial statements it sounds like you’re going to be putting a lot of emphasis on training and recruiting referees. I hope you’ll also take a close look at the mechanics of officiating, including this question of where the refs are positioned.

Putting them in different locations around the court would allow them to render decisions with more accuracy and authority. You might discover that with an improved view the current refs are actually better than they’re given credit for.


Matt Lombardi

Incidents at the front of the court are difficult for referees situated 50 feet away in the bleachers
Incidents at the front of the court are difficult for referees situated 50 feet away in the bleachers

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  1. If you want to improve the situation of refereeing in squash, the issue of player dissent needs to be addressed as well. As a member of the crowd at a PSA tournament in Canada last weekend, it was DISGUSTING to watch certain players interact with the officials in front of a crowd filled with juniors who think this kind of behavior is acceptable. Officials have the power to limit this dissent, to virtually eliminate poor behavior, but they just let it go. As a spectator of pro squash, I often find the poor attitudes of the players overshadow the quality of the squash (with some exceptions). This needs to change as well.

  2. Dear Matt,

    Thank you for the well written piece and the thoughts you have shared. It is great to see such passionate response from so many, who clearly love Squash.

    We are, of course, open, and welcome well constructed and considered new ideas, and your point is certainly worth discussions between the PSA and WSF.

    To appeal to the masses, it is important that the PSA, players, coaches, WSF and referees all work hard and proactively together, to make our Dynamic, Exciting and Demanding sport as watchable as possible.

    Thank you once again for your input.

    Kind Regards,


  3. Many thanks for your reply, Lee — I was very happy to see it.

    Standing with the front-wall crowd at Grand Central provided some insight into the minds of the masses you’re looking to attract to the game.

    Most of the people there were club players who understood the basics of squash but had very little, if any, knowledge of the pro tours. There are many thousands more who fit that description in the U.S. and I’m sure around the world. If you’re looking to grow the pro game, these are the people you’ve got to be going after first. They’re your low-hanging fruit.

    I noticed two consistent negative reactions from them as they watched:

    — Not surprisingly, they were bothered by the number of lets. They understood the concept of lets and strokes, but they didn’t have patience with the high volume of them — especially when the balls looked playable. There wasn’t much discussion about the fairness of the calls, just grumbling when they started to occur in clusters. More than once a viewer felt compelled to say to the rest of the crowd, “This is boring!”

    — They also got frustrated with the stoppage of play for video reviews. Part of the problem was that from where we stood we couldn’t see a video screen — the match would just stop and the players would stand around doing nothing. But I sensed that even those with screen access could get frustrated with the way reviews disrupted momentum, especially toward the conclusion of games when the competition should have been at its most engaging.

    Those are a couple of observations from the front lines. Wish I had easy solutions, but I think improvements are only going to come from significantly outside-the-box ideas and the willingness to engage in some trial-and-error. Good luck! I’m rooting for you, and I know I’m not alone.

    — Matt

  4. This is a VITAL discussion and it should be highlighted even more. Thanks Matt for bringing it up and good luck Lee.
    Regarding the LET situation: As long as we have it written the way it is today (I’m still quite interested in the No-Let solution) we must emphasize the EFFORT part. Players must really show by a clear effort that they want to play the ball OR give way. This also means that a let can be awarded a player that really tries but fails due to interference from the opponent. All too often I hear the comment – no let, you should have stopped. Why is that the case?
    Regarding calling balls down: In one match I saw a player call one of his own pick-ups down against what the ref said. The commentators said that that was wrong. He should have let the ref rule and not interfere. I strongly disagree. The players should of course help to resolve tricky situations not least in pick up situations. As a player you normally do feel yourself if the ball is down or up. Be honest. Encourage this from early age! The idea of having refs in new positions seems like a good one – I would though then recommend for the pros to have “linesmen” that focus on double bounces and whether the ball is in our out.
    On the side wall line I would suggest that the wall should be cut to the exact measurements – no need for any top lines. I’m pretty sure ASB and the others could do this in a smart way.
    My old idea of having prices for Fair Play and Best ref should also be part of all tournaments.
    God – I’m blabbing. Sorry.

  5. I’ve now watched the Castagnet-Barker match and I think this is the first time that I’ve honestly considered abandoning this sport completely.
    Here I am trying to work out a solution with a new club in Stockholm to support the growth of the sport and then I see this. Is this really the sport to go for?

    Sure the refereeing was terrible at times but I must claim that the way Barker behaved was absolutely terrible.
    Not calling that ball down that he picked up at the front is to me just cheating.
    Not approving of the let call when he knocks Castagnet over is just being unfair and unsportsmanlike.
    There were many more instances that really got me angry but perhaps the last one where Castagnet got a no let was the worst. To see Barker be happy at that occasion just made me sick.

    Now please don’t take this the wrong way – I sure enjoy tight games BUT they should be fair.

    Maybe one alternative is to go the other way. Stop using refs. Let the guys handle the refereeing themselves. It would be SOOOOOO interesting to see how that worked out.
    The other alternative is to go with the NO LET rule. This will sure force players both to show their true ambition to play the ball AND move out of the way after playing the shot.
    Let’s really evaluate what’s happening at the Pro Squash Tour in USA. There are quite a few good players participating let’s talk to them. Let’s watch videos and create statistics. Let’s get some facts.

    Our sport is much less evident that tennis or badminton and it will always require a certain degree of gentlemanship. If that is not done we can never get a fair game.

    The adrenaline is finally calming down but I’m so glad that I was not among the crowd in NY. I would have used my lungs to their maximum booooing at the Barker behaviour and refereeing joke.

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