I tried recently to think of a game where the judge/referee/umpire plays a minor role, and I just about managed to come with a few.
In fact the influence of the various officials in most sporting contests is considerable. And every sport appears to require at least one in some shape or form.
It is no surprise that in media reports and analysis, the referee and his or her decisions are often cited, more often by losing teams or players whose performance they themselves feel has been negatively affected.
I won’t deny it. I have heard myself saying post match how, if a certain decision had gone another way things might have been different; undoubtedly there have been times when refereeing decisions have changed the course of a contest.
Some of the major sports: football, rugby and cricket are complex games with extensive rules and decisions are crucial.
It’s no wonder that football has run into difficulties.
Players are adept at convincing referees they have been fouled by diving, yet must be daft enough to assume that a television camera somewhere won’t clearly reveal it.
Or perhaps they don’t care.
In addition , football still resists the use of technology as an aid, and so we still see goals being given when the ball didn’t go over the line or unjustified penalties awarded in crucial games.
Having said this, cricket has embraced TV technology wholeheartedly and has run into problems over the last few years.
So, even replays will never provide a fail-safe.
The Professional Squash Association (PSA, the men’s professional governing body) has had its share of headaches over refereeing in the past years.
Players are quite rightly vocal about it and yet up until now financial provisions for the improvement of refereeing systems have been minimal.
Squash is as difficult a sport to referee as any; it is played uniquely within the confines of a relatively small square box, and therefore is susceptible to bouts of physical interference between players. These can spawn a number of different results, which are often liable to be widely debated.
There are even occasionally decisions in squash which could technically be given one of three ways.
Currently squash has a three referee system in place and it has been known for the three referees to each give a ‘No let’, a ‘Let’ or a ‘Stroke’. This is how variable opinions can be.
Then I think of sports which are judged subjectively: Figure skating, diving, gymnastics.
And I’m glad that my whole life’s work isn’t dependent on what a handful of judges think.
At least in squash, though there is some scope for grey area, I more or less know that if I play better squash than my opponent, I win.
The PSA have just recently secured Lee Drew, former player and England coach to take up the role as director of refereeing, and his brief is to find ways of improving standards and to introduce systems which encourage more referees to develop and the best referees to get better.
Like athletes, referees need to practise their craft, and should have a strong support system.
Now the resources are more available, I hope we see stability and improvement.
It is a big part of sport: from line calls in tennis, to an lbw decision in cricket, or to a technical aspect in figure skating.
All sports (I believe all) rely on an element of external, impartial influence and since much officiating in sport is down to opinion and interpretation it will never be a perfect science.