by Barry Faguy
HEY REF! Sometimes I get stuck reffing a match with seemingly endless calls. Is there any way to cut down those numbers?
That’s a very topical question, and this longer-than-average answer is far too short. Indeed, for the past few years, the professional organizations have been urging Referees to make decisions that contribute to fewer interruptions, that is to say, to assess mostly Strokes & No Lets. Easier said than done!
One option: One typical (and valid) approach is to deny a Let to the striker who interrupts play for interference that by itself, is clearly minimal, or where, when faced with some interference, the striker’s effort to play the ball is poor. This dual attention on the striker is fair, but far too often, some Referees lose all proper perspective—burdening only the striker with unreasonable standards of effort. Too often, when dealing with reachable returns, where the interference is significant and the effort to reach it is entirely acceptable (short of physical abuse) – a simple Let is denied. Such a distorted approach sacrifices fairness on the altar of ‘fewer interruptions’.
Another option: Attention to the striker cannot be the only approach, or even the first; If you think about the big picture, you’ll soon realize that any legitimate interference is likely the fault of the non-striker, who either didn’t clear fast enough or in the right direction—or at very least, has hit a shot that could not be cleared. There’s no one else on the court to blame; such a conclusion is not unreasonable. Of course, even with a harsh claim like that, we cannot automatically assess Strokes against the non-striker each time there is a legitimate interference; the game would not be playable. The rules create a balance by requiring other considerations, such as effort to play, effort to clear, minimal interference, possibility of a winning return, and others. Nonetheless, you being aware that the non-striker’s action is at the origin of most interferences will help your thinking towards a fairer result.
Other options: In addition to the issue of any player-oriented focus—you have other avenues available to help reduce stoppages: avoid giving away strokes too easily for ‘swing’ interference, and for ‘crossing the flight’ (ball) interference. If you give away Strokes like candy, that will obviously encourage players to try to get their points using your decisions, rather than the old fashioned way. And don’t think that easy Strokes will encourage better clearing. That is an error because mostly all cases of these latter forms of interference (swing & ball) happen by surprise, and not because the non-striker isn’t trying to clear. The unintentional return is often due to a mis-hit or an unexpected rebound – and no number of previous Strokes will preclude them happening again. Therefore, with borderline cases of ‘swing’ and ‘ball’ interference – a Let will more likely encourage players to play on the next time it happens.
HEY REF! Sometimes I’ve seen the player ask for a Let as soon as the other guy finished his shot – but clearly before the ball had reached the front wall. I thought you couldn’t do that?
This is known as an early appeal, and it mostly happens with the ‘access’ type of interference. Strictly speaking, it had always been grounds for automatically denying the Let given that the player was not technically the striker because the ball had not yet rebounded from the front wall. There was therefore, no right to make the request in the first place. However, the “strictly speaking” & “technically” ideas were typically ignored simply because referees realized that the game is too fast to be able to stick to the letter of the law. So, in order to have the rules match what had obviously become a convention, the 2014 rules had an exception added that allows such an early appeal. However, it comes with one caveat: it applies only to ‘access’ interference.