Squash: Authorities hit by contempt on court: Richard Eaton on the low shots and high temperatures causing confrontations and concern in the squash world

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The Independent Online
AN ARGUMENT between a leading player and a referee in the arena concourse attracted almost as much attention from the milling spectators in Karachi the week before last as the match had a few minutes earlier. Player accused referee of losing him the match; referee called player a 'f****r'.

Another confrontation on court between a different player and referee caused a fractious four-minute delay, and a strongly worded report from the tournament director to the International Squash Players' Association, the world circuit's governing body. This is nothing unusual. Last year's World Open saw one referee invited threateningly by a player to step outside, two players banned and a long list of disciplinary infringements.

Referees have been getting so sick of all the aggro that some have said they no longer want to do the job. Similarly players' views on the standard of refereeing have become increasingly embittered. The situation has been close to crisis for too long.

Help may be at hand. According to Mike Picken, an Englishman who is probably the most experienced international referee, the use of a three-referee officiating system not only should, but probably will, become part of the circuit soon. This system has been experimented with in Canada and Germany this season, and while it has experienced hiccups, it has certainly reduced the one-to-one confrontations. These can become volcanic where players have been vying for the same space on the court, creating situations in which subjective judgement plays a bigger part in refereeing decisions than in any other sport.

'Sometimes we know we are in a confrontation situation even before we go on court,' Picken said. 'This can only lead to referees being placed under a great deal of stress. I have known officials go out of the game because of the aggravation. I have thought of doing that many times myself,' added Picken, who has been an international standard referee for 12 years.

Picken conducted a survey at last month's European Open in Kiel, which suggested the majority of players may now be in favour of a three-referee system. All the referees who have used it are said to prefer it. Picken is perhaps right to believe, therefore, that this experimental system has been successful - even though in Vancouver in October a catalogue of mistakes was visited upon the women's World Open after two referees mistakenly made judgements on different incidents in the same rally.

As a result this match was wrongly ordered to be recontinued the next day, and after a protest vote by managers from 15 countries, the appeals committee embarrassingly reversed its decision only minutes before the match was due to be restarted. But provided referees learn how to operate the system, there is little danger of such faulty communication repeating itself, Picken believes.

What would help prevent that is for the two referees situated at ground level to be given powers to halt a rally, just as the main referee in the gallery is. The main referee needs always to specify precisely what a player's appeal has been about. And some of the responsibility could be taken away from the main referee. In Kiel, he was marking the matches and making the first appeal decisions and co-ordinating appeal procedures.

The setting up of a combined working party between the ISPA and the World Squash Federation has been recommended. 'We can experiment and experiment but at the end of the day we must make a decision,' Picken said. Radical change, it seems, may be imminent.