Monday, March 27, 2023

Squash closes in on first professional referees

The man responsible for driving the high standard of squash officiating across the world has revealed that the sport is “not far off” having its first professional referees.

In part two of an extensive Squash Mad interview (read part one here), Lee Drew reveals the extent of efforts by World Squash Officiating (WSO) to develop referees who are under “incredible scrutiny” at the top of the game.

The WSO, formed by the World Squash Federation and the PSA, is creating a pathway of courses and a wealth of online resources (including video content) for individuals and national governing bodies to improve and standardise officiating worldwide. Another big goal of the organisation is to professionalise refereeing at the top of the sport. 

“At the moment, there is a massive disparity between the elite players on court, officiated by people who are using up their annual leave from work to be there,” says Drew. 

“We need to give more accountability to officials, so they’re not using their spare time to dedicate themselves to self-development, but can actually put in as much time as they need to study the game and evolve. That is why we’re creating a professional pathway. 

“I strongly believe in the direction we’re going and I don’t think we’re too far off being able to get some professional referees. I think it’s important because they are operating at the pinnacle of their vocation, but currently can’t invest the amount of time into it that they’d like to.” 

Leading squash referee John Massarella (centre)

The WSO is planning a player-specific course on refereeing which could eventually be made mandatory. This is intended to give players a better understanding of how referees are interpreting the rules to give them insight into in-match decisions and empathy with the man or woman in the chair. 

“We want to improve the experience of any participant, whether that’s officials getting better, players gaining broader understanding of the rules or informing coaches what referees can expect from their players in terms of their interpretations,” says Drew. 

Drew works personally with elite-level referees at tournaments, striving to achieve the Holy Grail of consistency in the interpretation of rules and decisions. Together, they analyse key decisions and assess learning points, with referees also encouraged to self-reflect. 

“Refereeing is so important because it’s such a contentious area and is under incredible scrutiny,” says Drew. “The stakes are enormous for players – their livings, earnings and ranking points – and the stakes are high for the people they work with too, and the entertainment value of the crowd and TV viewers. We would never under-estimate that.” 

Drew gives an insight into the referee’s matchday experience: “You’re sitting in with the crowd which adds pressure immediately; you’ve got TV cameras facing you, your iPad where you have to input the score, the wording which needs to be correct for production purposes and two headphones on – the microphone to the arena and players and the connection to the video referee. 

“You’ve got to control all that and manage the situation in front of you. Your coping mechanisms for dealing with pressure is a massive part of being successful. Everything is so emotionally charged so the ability to manage situations becomes huge. 

“You’ve got to be quite thick-skinned to have players and coaches shouting at you and members of the crowd muttering under their breath. 

“There is a lot of pressure and that’s exactly why we’re putting in all this work. We want to alter the current stigma that is often associated with refereeing and make refereeing a viable career option in squash moving forwards. 

“We want to capture the positive experience of being a referee. For example, you operate at the pinnacle of the game with the world’s best players, stay in some great hotels, you get to referee at fantastic venues such as the Pyramids or Grand Central Station and you make a difference to the product that is broadcast globally.” 

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