By ALAN THATCHER
It’s obvious that Joe McManus, the Commissioner of the US-based Pro Squash Tour, is not going to pack up his bags any time soon and walk away from the sport.
He has irked and irritated a number of squash federations, most notably the PSA, with his fledgling tour, but I sense at the heart of it is a desire to grow the game and create a business model geared towards bigger events.
Some in the PSA and WSA see this as a hostile act, but the thing that interests me most is Joe’s willingness to look at the rules and work towards an end product that reduces the number of stoppages and makes the game more entertaining.
Joe and his supporters have plenty of ammunition to work, citing major PSA matches that have dragged on for more than two hours, not because of the quality of the squash and the length of the rallies, but because the referee has been called on to make more than 100 decisions in response to appeals from the players.
I recently wrote a piece in Squash Player magazine highlighting the friction between PSA members and referees. Not to put too fine a point on it, this impasse highlights one of the biggest obstacles to squash becoming a popular TV sport.
Anything that makes a game difficult to understand, and therefore presents a challenge to communicate live on television, is a major drawback to squash’s ambitions.
Lets, strokes and no-lets always seem to be at the heart of these problems, whether you are a player trapped inside the glass box with an awkward opponent who is blocking or fishing for cheap points, a referee trying to make difficult decisions, or a poor old commentator trying to make sense of it all and inform his viewers.
What strikes me as most odd is that so many PSA members are happy to criticise the referees supplied by the WSF as if it’s someone else’s problem. The phrase “passing the buck” springs to mind.
They (the PSA members) own their own world tour and my own view is that it is incumbent upon them to do something about it themselves if they perceive refereeing to be such a problem.
Many players say they expect all referees to be bad and hope that decisions, good or bad, will be shared equally among both competitors.
Some players suggest doing away with referees altogether and giving the job to PSA members who have been knocked out of the tournament.
That presupposes that all PSA members know the rules of the game and will not show any bias to any of the players on court.
It also begs the question of who referees the first round of qualifying competitions when nobody has been knocked out.
Many players admit having zero respect for referees and some have taken matters into their own hands by complaining to promoters so vociferously that match officials have been asked to leave in the middle of tournaments.
I received an email from a referee caught up in such a storm in North America. The players may have got their own way and removed the appointed referees, but I have been told that the main sponsor (a knowledgeable squash player himself) was so unimpressed by this chain of events that he declined to continue his financial support.
For years I have been trying to remind players that every time they open a court door to shout at a referee they are likely to be hurling abuse in a direct line at the main sponsors.
Guys, that’s where they sit. In the middle of the front rows. Always have done and always will do.
However, it’s time that the PSA looked at siting referees in alternative positions, whenever a glass court allows that possibility.
Seating your referees ten rows back to afford some kind of elevated view creates a major problem when the match officials are called on to settle a dispute in the front half of the court.
In Richmond, venue for the Davenport North American Open, a Skybox on the left-hand wall offered a superb view of the action in the front left corner, scene of so much carnage on court.
It seems such an obvious solution to have extra officials positioned near the front wall so that they can adjudicate on double bounces or shots that may or may not have hit the tin, in addition to access and exit issues that cause so many ugly exchanges on court.
To examine the difficulties facing referees, I would refer all my friends in the PSA to look at the video of a Super Series match between Peter Nicol and Jonathon Power at the Broadgate Arena some years ago.
This one rally continues to amuse, entertain and baffle in equal measures, with an incident that occurs around the T area as Power goes the wrong way, recovers his position and wraps his racket around Nicol’s shoulders.
He gets a No-Let call. Many think he should have had a stroke. Some say it’s a simple let.
Take a look and see what you think. Make your decision, write it down secretly and ask all your squash friends to do the same.
Then get together and compare notes. I imagine that, like the people posting on the Blog, you will come up with a variety of calls.
It’s a tough task, this refereeing, and we have to do everything we can to help the officials to do their job, and keep pace with the changes in the game.
Most controversial incidents take place in the front half of the court, and that’s where we need to fix our gaze.
To the PSA, one simple piece of advice: You own it, you fix it.
To the PST, thank you for bringing this issue into the daylight, and good luck with your experiments.
It’s fascinating to see a match between David Palmer and Wael El Hindi being used to illustrate the new PST methods, bearing in mind their history on court.
I hope the PSA are watching. And I hope that a dialogue can be established between all parties for the good of the game.
If we are serious about the Olympics, then we should get serious about addressing any problem that might hold us back.
Count the number of officials around a tennis court. Then think about using similar methods in squash.
Referees need to be given the best view possible, and means to instantly communicate.
The video replay trial has been an outstanding success, and the scheme needs to be extended to cover all aspects of the game.
Please let me know what you think – players or referees.