Angry players want to replace referees
LONDON: Squash is not a sport which attracts much controversy yet the game is making headlines because of a major dispute between players and referees.
Leading players, including world champion David Palmer, want fellow players rather than part-time referees to officiate in professional matches. The players believe referees, who have never played the game professionally, are failing to apply the rules correctly.
Last year in a match in Qatar, Australian Palmer and world number two John White decided to send off South African referee Harvey Bowlt because they had lost confidence in his ability. “It is frustrating,” said Palmer. “It is disappointing that the level of refereeing is not good enough. Not having played at a high level is such a disadvantage. I don’t know what the solution is but I still think that players doing the job would be better.
Scottish international White said: “Referees and players can’t get any further apart. If they do, it will be like the referees playing against the players.”
The situation intensified at last month’s world team championships in Vienna when England coach David Pearson said poor refereeing had marred his team’s semi-final against France, which the French won. During the competition, players filled in questionnaires rating referees on their performance.
Unqualified players: But referees themselves, such as Northern Ireland official Jack Flynn, were sceptical about the questionnaires. “I have reservations because some players will not give you a true and honest opinion if they’ve lost,” said Flynn. “If we have a situation where all players are rating referees as rubbish then we have a problem. But if this is used for months or years, it may become apparent which referees are effective.”
World number one Peter Nicol is less convinced that using players as referees is a good idea. “If players and ex-players are to referee matches they should still go through the same process as qualified referees,” the English international said. “They can’t just turn up and do it.”
Unqualified players refereeing was tried in the 1980s on the men’s tour and more recently at the Tournament of Champions on the concourse at New York’s Grand Central Station, a high-profile event run by American promoter John Nimick. The New York tournament subsequently switched to using one primary referee, who was a certified World Squash Federation (WSF) official, and an appeal referee, who was a player. However, qualified referees disliked being over-ruled by players and said they would not continue with the format. “Using players is problematic but bad refereeing by officials in whom players have no faith can be much worse,” said Nimick, himself a former player.
Aggressive behaviour: Some competitors believe that poor refereeing is adding to the on-court pressures and has been a major factor behind the increase in players’ aggressive behaviour. In the team final in Vienna, Anthony Ricketts of Australia and Gregory Gaultier of France almost came to blows after a prolonged bout of pushing and shoving. Gaultier had previously been accused of swearing “about 50 times” by England coach Pearson in the semi-finals.
Squash is desperate to gain Olympic status but last year the WSF warned that leading figures in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had criticised the amount of player dissent during the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
Relations between players and referees on the men’s circuit are arguably worse than at any time since it began in the late 1960s.
With increasingly mobile players, the sport-in-a-room takes place in a space that seems ever more confined, worsening an already notorious traffic problem as players vie for the advantageous central position. Collisions, baulking, penalty strokes and let decisions can become frequent, with referees sometimes making 150 calls in one match.
No-one seems certain of the solution. While questionnaires and talks continue, the risk of unfairness and ugliness increases and the sport’s slender Olympic hopes recede. But there is some consolation. Amid such controversy there is no sign of spectators losing interest. In fact, squash may even gain more followers eager to see another referee being sent off the court. —Reuters