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Refereeing Crisis

…with contributions from Dan Kneipp and Rod Symington

Global Gallery,
December 4, 2006

The Monthly Round-up of the Interesting and
Inane of Squash From Martin Bronstein

© 2006 All
rights reserved.
all photos© 2006, Debra Tessier and Fritz Borchert

traditional refereeing position (rarely used now): On a tower
behind the back wall. Photo © 2006,
Stephen Line.

the backward attitude of referees and their  refusal
to make  fuller use of the four-wall glass court to be detrimental
to the game.

the US  Open in Boston this year I have become convinced
that fundamental changes must be made in the way major squash tournaments
should be officiated. In fact I am so enraged by the conservative – backward
even – attitude of many of our leading referees that I have decided
to devote the November and December Global Galleries to this subject.


of this column know by now that I think the current marker/referee
system to be not only be outdated but fundamentally flawed; it is ludicrous
that the two officials should be seated  side by side, getting exactly
the same view of the action of a sport that is probably the most difficult
of all to referee.  In essence squash is all about angles. Should
we not seat the two officials at different levels  or different

you speak to most referees they will answer the above questions with
a resounding no.  These people, sadly, are stuck in the past,
where a squash court was a solid structure of bricks and mortar with
a balcony behind the back wall as the only viewing position. Almost every
referee I have spoken/discussed/argued with has been adamant that this
high/ backwall position is the only way to judge the action of a squash
match.  They cannot look at the situation with new eyes.

am not alone in this view.  Respected referee Rod Symington emailed  the
following to me after reading my angry comments from Boston:

followed your daily reports from the US Open with great interest —
especially your comments about the refereeing and the position of the
match referee. I fully agree with you that something has to be done
— and I have been arguing for change for years, but without success.
I am Editor of the WSF Referees’ Review which is distributed
twice a year, and in an Editorial a year ago (still on-line on the WSF
website) I expressed the same sentiments as you did from Boston — but
the silence was deafening. You are absolutely correct in stating that
it is the unwillingness of the top referees to change the system that
is hampering the sport. A couple of years ago I wrote another article
on the subject but once again it was dismissed as the work of a crank."


referees -buried a number of rows back in the audience. Photo © 2006,
Ron Beck.

since 1984 I have been watching major tournaments through the front
wall and have always believed that this gives a better view of the
action than sitting behind the backwall. It is fairly obvious that
the view from the backwall nearly always has two players between
the referee and the ball which can lead to some horrendously wrong
decisions. The view from the front wall however puts the referee
in a perfect position to see the ball unhindered by the bodies of
the players. I also contend that when judging let calls on obstruction
the view from the front wall is more informative. Furthermore during
the US Open, because all ten seats behind the front wall were sold
for vast sums of money, I was moved to a spot  by
the side wall, close to the front left corner. Once again I saw far
more than the referees who were seated at eye-level with the floor
of the court. Absolutely disastrous. I have never seen so many transparently
wrong decisions. The referees were not happy with their position
either, but they had no alternative. (I shall come back to this point

the front wall position been considered seriously? Yes!  Rod
Symington informed me that:

“You may not be aware of it, but the WSF established a Working
Group about a year ago to study the optimum position of the Referee on
a show-court, and in the Report that the Working Group submitted recently
it recommended placing the Marker and Referee — behind
the front wall!!
The reaction from all the top referees so
far has been universally negative (surprise, surprise!).

the referee (and marker) behind the front wall would not be a perfect
solution. For example, how would the referee communicate with the players?
(And good communication is
essential for control of the match.) But it would be a start towards
developing a more rational and satisfactory system.”


me to debate that point concerning communication between player and
referee.  I don’t think it is an important
aspect of squash. Having seen the old American system of referee and
two linesman using the appeal format, the communication was minimum.  When
a player finds that two out of three officials have come to the same
decision, argument usually stops  And those who have watched irate  players  try
and communicate with a referee seated 20 feet or more behind the back
wall will know how much mis-communication goes on. But more importantly,
the exchanges between player and referee are usually bad tempered arguments,
giving the match a sour taste. Dan Kneipp,
brother of Joe, has seen squash in all its stages and is one of the
more intelligent observers. My reports from Boston brought this response
from Dan:

the new scoring system and how competitive the men’s game is at the
moment, a lot of matches come down to a few points. These points
are often let or stroke decisions made by a referee whose position
is a joke .

marker is completely superfluous; the main problem with refereeing
is bad calls, yet one guy is just sitting there scribing. When was
the last time there was a scoring mistake that the players didn’t pick
up? What a waste of an official!

players have no respect for the referees and it shows in the manner
in which they discuss decisions. This conversation usually occurs over
the top of the sponsors, which is bad for everyone. When someone tells
me the banter is enjoyable and shows the players’ personalities I wonder
if they see some of the more hostile and aggressive players and ask
when was the last time Federer said a word at Wimbledon during the
match . Tennis (or football, or golf, or whatever sport) doesn’t suffer
from no ‘personality exchanges’.”


present system is ripe for a player  imagining
that the referee is prejudiced and the two then get into a heated  one-on-one

the preceding, it is apparent that one part of the solution is to
do away with a single referee and get into a  team
system. (Think for a moment how many officials it takes to  run
a tennis or badminton match.)

Rod Symington makes the same point:

believe that — in line with all the major sports in the world — for
the top professional events squash should be using a team
of officials
. One official on each side wall, perhaps 10 feet from
the front, could see and call the downs and the not-ups (this was used
in Toulouse in 1987!). One official at the side of each back-wall could
call the interference (crossing the flight lets and strokes), —
and so on. There is absolutely no reason why squash should not place
however many officials might be needed in the right place for
important matches.”

put Rod.  Dan Kneipp

need a solution that puts the referee in a better position, maximises
the officials, gains the respect of the players, discourages dissent
and ensures a smooth flowing match."


is too fast and there are too many subjective situation for the let
and stroke decisions to be placed upon one person. It doesn’t matter
if the referee is in the crow tower position, or sitting on the front
wall. The decision shouldn’t fall on one person; there should be 3 referees
with each call decided by majority decision.

should be placed as close to the court as possible. One behind the
back wall. One on the left wall (front of the court where possible),
one on the right wall (front or back of the glass). This only takes
one extra official, making better use of the current 2 official system,
and ensures that all decisions have been arrived at by at least two
referees sitting close to the action. This will dramatically improve
the standard of the decisions, and the respect players have for them. “

has arrived at the same sort of solution as I did after a long conversation
with Dave Carr. Although Dave is known as the McWil Court man, he has
been around squash for a long time in many different capacities.  The
system I proposed is similar to Dan Kneipp’s but aiming for each
official to have an entirely different angle.

would go for four referees.  The referee behind
the back wall would also be marker/spokesman. He would be at ground
level (no choice).

second referee would be on the left wall two yards from the front wall.   More
action takes place at the front left than front right and he/she would
be in the perfect position to see double bounces, nicks, not ups etc.

third referee would be on the right wall around the service box.  A
referee assured me that most obstruction takes place in that area of
the court, so  he would have a perfect view.

The fourth referee would be on a high chair in the middle of the front
wall. He would have the best overall view.

All referees would have an electronic pad connected to the first referee
and the scoreboard. They would give their decisions using three buttons:

blue for no let, yellow for let and red for stroke. If the decision
concerns whether a ball was up or down, or hit the tin, then a green
light indicates that the ball/get was good and a red light indicates
an illegal shot.

The spectators would see the decisions and the first referee would announce
the verdict.

the verdict is split 2/2 then a let shall be played, which harks back
to the oldest rule – if there is doubt, a let
shall be played.

Carr, who also provides scoreboards, said this technology would present  no
problems. It would speed up decision-making, avoid arguments and keep
the game flowing.

Where there is  just a glass backwall,
there would be three  officials, one in the
seats behind the back wall centrally located, one in a high chair by
the right back corner, (blocking nobody’s view) and one at ground
level on the left back corner. In the absence of electronics, three
coloured table tennis bats would do the trick.]


referees won’t opt for change and WSF, PSA and WISPA  have
not seen fit to give this grave situation any serious thought. When the
WSF did get a front wall suggestion, they allowed the  luddite referees
to bury it.

Symington says:

am mystified why the players don’t demand it. Why do they continue
to depend on the WSF to supply them with referees? Why don’t they appoint
their own referees and invent their own refereeing system? After all,
they changed the Rules in other respects already.

have no hope that a change in the present system will come from the
top referees themselves: I do have some hope, however,
that you might use your considerable influence to pressure for change
— and if the PSA supports you, something good might come of it.”

The answer is that it is the promoter who
will make change. It is the promoter who tells the referee where to
sit. As much as they hate sitting among the spectators, 30 feet from
the court, they do it.  So it is up to a brave promoter to tell
them that there will be four refs for each match and where they have
to sit. If they don’t like it, let them go home and watch football
on telly.