By Rod Symington, WSF Referees and Rules Committee
According to the Rules of Squash (18.2): “The correct location for the Referee and Marker is at the center of the back wall, as close to that wall as possible, above the out line on the back wall, and preferably with seating.”
When did you last see the two officials in that position?
Rule 18.2 is a good example of a Rule that exists on paper, but is very rarely observed: very few squash clubs have such seating for the officials above the back wall (my club is a rare exception), and in major events, such as the British or the US Open, such seating is never made available—because the presence of two bodies in such a location would block the camera. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a pretty picture is far more desirable than good refereeing.
In far too many major events, the officials have to make do with being seated among the spectators, many rows back from the court. This makes rendering decisions very difficult: a Marker or Referee who is 50 or more feet away from the tin is bound to have trouble seeing if a ball is good or down. At least this location usually has one advantage: the officials are raised up above the court level, which gives them a better perspective of the players’ movement and location. But it is a poor alternative to the ideal location.
For local tournaments or league play, finding a good place from which to officiate is even more difficult. Many times the court will have no tiered seating behind it, and the (often single) Referee has to stand or sit directly behind the glass back wall. This is the very worst place from which to referee.
Because, in order to render good decisions when interference occurs, the Referee must be in a raised position: you cannot possibly see the relationship between the players’ bodies and where the ball is if you are located at floor level. When the two players go forward, for example, into the front corner and play drop-shots, it is impossible to see what is happening if you are standing (or worse, sitting) behind the back wall at floor level. The players’ bodies will block your view.
If there is a balcony behind the court, standing there is always preferable to being at floor level. If the court has some form of tiered seating behind it, the Referee (and Marker, if there is one) should be seated high enough to be able to see the player’s movement and the relationship of the bodies to each other—usually three or four rows up. (Do not sit in the first row of the bleachers!)
If the court has no such seating, the officials should try to find a way of elevating themselves (e.g., by standing on a chair). Gaining some height above the level of the court is crucial to good refereeing.
In squash matches between right-handed players, most of the rallies will take place down the backhand (i.e., left) wall; thus it is advisable for the Referee to be located slightly to the left of center, in order to get the best view of interference on that side.
Sometimes I am asked if the Referee should move from side to side behind the back wall, in order to see the play better. (I have actually seen one crazy Referee who ran back and forth behind the glass the entire match.) Well, no. First, you should not be standing right behind the back wall anyway (see above), and second, apart from such actions being impractical in most locations, such behavior is very distracting for both players and spectators. Some spectators might also question your sanity.
To sum up: If you do not have a structure that seats you above the back wall, try to find a location that raises you up above floor level, preferably about six to ten feet behind the court. Rule 18.2 describes the ideal: whatever solution you find should keep that in mind.