Saturday, June 22, 2024

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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