Hey Ref: October 2018

by Barry Faguy

HEY REF I referee a fair amount and I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that there seems to be a lot more no lets given for access interference situations, way more than in the past and sometimes it seems painfully unfair. Is there some kind of new directive out there I don’t know about?

Legitimate interference

If you think about it, we could in principle always blame the opponent (non-striker) for any legitimate interference—simply because there’s no one else on the court. Any such interference means that the non-striker has failed to clear—either moving too slowly, moving the wrong way or not moving at all. A strict approach to decision making could theoretically penalize the non-striker anytime there was an interference—and that in turn would likely lead the striker to stop play at every opportunity, expecting to be awarded a stroke. There’d be no continuity.

To get around this potential predicament, the rules specify that:

  • Minor impediments (minimal interference) must be tolerated—meaning that the striker is expected to play through any interference which does not unreasonably compromise the return.
  • Significant impediments become subject to other considerations—such as the opponent’s effort to clear, the amount of any swing interference, the possibility of a winning return and so on.

Not-so-legitimate interference

We also need to be aware of those interference situations which are not legitimate, meaning where the striker is creating them—that is, cheating. These include actions like an artificial, deliberately enlarged swing, or an artificial, deliberately incorrect path to the ball. These unethical actions are designed to include the opponent when otherwise they were clear—either as an attempt to generate an undeserved stroke, to avoid having to play a difficult return or simply to get a break when tiring.

Other influences

Sometimes referees find themselves subject to other influences, such as:

  • The natural instinct (often at odds with the rules) of wanting to punish the incoming striker whose previous poor shot has now placed them in a bad position behind their opponent.
  • The tendency to focus solely on the incoming striker, often failing to note any poor clearing effort by the opponent.
  • The worry of a poor performance review for awarding too many lets—stemming from administrative pressures that urge the use of more no lets & strokes to promote continuity.

The easiest place to see such influences at work is with access interference. That’s because it is the most common and the slowest form of interference as it involves whole-body movement—whereas the other interferences (view, swing, & ball) can occur in a flash. The easiest player to target is of course the one who has just interrupted play with a request for let—meaning the striker. If you fall victim to those influences, we’re likely to witness the sacrifice of fairness for the perceived benefit of fewer lets. Yet so often, the real source of the problem is the non-striker—who either fails to make the proper clearing efforts or hits a return that can’t be cleared in any case.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to rise above these poor tendencies. Avoid knee-jerk thinking, properly evaluate the facts, use only the rules and avoid outside considerations.