Road to Dubai: the man in the middle

Studying proceedings from a highly unusual vantage point, squash referees are among the most conspicuous arbiters in any sport – and will again be in prominent position during the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai. As Will Jones discovers, they take their visibility very much in their stride 

Every sport in the world, whatever the level, is connected by a common thread. If you keep noticing the man or woman charged with controlling the game (referee, umpire, judge – the terminology varies), it probably means they’re doing a bad job.

When it comes to squash, however, there is a substantial twist on this theme – the referees sit among the spectators.

It is a unique situation in sport, and brings its own challenges, not just in terms of the view. And the players sympathise with those in charge of the decision-making.

“It’s a very tough job,” admits former world No. 1 Nick Matthew, who is bidding to be one of the eight contenders at the PSA World Series Final at Dubai Opera House in June.

“Imagine being stuck in a crowd and having to deal with fast, high-pressure rallies. I don’t know of many sports where the referees are put in the middle of a crowd.”

The new technology employed at the top level of the sport in the PSA World Series, with replays shown on a big screen on the front wall of the court, has made referees’ decisions even more noticeable. But Damien Green, a longstanding Australian referee, doesn’t mind the pressure. “To reach the top level of anything you try to do in life is a great privilege,” he says.

It’s a common theme among referees. “I never stop loving it,” says Englishman John Massarella, who’s refereed at an international level for more than a decade. “I always, always feel privileged to have the best chair in the house.”