How Clear is Clear?
|Rod Symington is on the WSF Rules and Referees Committee and is a consultant on Rules and Refereeing to the USA. He has also been the Tournament Referee for, among others, the Women's Worlds, Pan Am Games, and Junior Men's and Women's Worlds. To contact Rod with questions or to enquire about clinics and his Squash Rules for Players, email him at email@example.com|
Recent columns have dealt with the requirement to give your opponent the freedom to swing at the ball with a reasonable backswing and follow-through (Rule 12.2.3). If you are in the way of your opponent's swing, you lose the rally. A reader asked (by e-mail): How much room do I have to give my opponent beyond the requirement to provide him or her with the room to make a reasonable swing? Is it OKAY if I am just clear?
There ought to be a simple, clear-cut answer to this question, but there isn't. We have to deal with two problems here: 1. What is a reasonable swing? And 2. How far away from a reasonable swing does the opponent have to be?
A Reasonable Swing
In Appendix 2.1 to the Rules of Squash a swing is defined as reasonable “if it is not excessive.” That, of course, is of no help to anyone, but the definitions (there are two of them, one for the backswing and one for the follow-through) go on to define an excessive backswing as “one in which the player's racket arm is extended towards a straight arm position and/or the racket is extended with the shaft approximately horizontal.” A similar definition describes an excessive follow-through.
We can see immediately that there is a fair amount of judgement necessary here. The phrase “extended towards a straight arm position” could (and does) lead to any amount of debate about whether or not a given player's swing is excessive.
The Rules give the Referee complete discretion in this regard: “The Referee's decision on what constitutes a reasonable as distinct from an excessive (backswing/followthrough) is final.”
Although even some of the top players might be considered to have an excessive swing (particularly on the backswing), in practice this provision in the Rules is only invoked against players at the lowest levels of skill. In games between novices particularly, the Referee has an obligation to intervene if a player's excessive swing could lead to injury.
How much room?
We still have to deal with the requirement to give the striker room to swing and hit the ball. How far away must the opponent be from the striker's reasonable swing-path: six inches, a foot, two feet? Is it okay if I simply stand still and lean backwards so that the racket whistles past my nose?
The Rules are silent on this issue but, in practice, the procedure is as follows: It is up to the Referee to set a mental standard at the beginning of a match, and to stick to that standard throughout the match. The Referee must apply the mental standard to both players equally in all similar situations. The most important thing in all of refereeing (in all sports) is consistency. There is nothing worse than an inconsistent standard that leaves the players baffled about where the decisions are coming from. However, applying this particular standard consistently is perhaps the most difficult aspect of squash refereeing.
The mental standard set by the Referee ought not to permit the opponent to be within a few inches of the racket's swing-path and believe that this is sufficient clearance. Such a liberal standard might encourage the striker to swing at the ball when it really wasn't safe to do so. The Referee should therefore set a standard whereby both players know that if they are too close to the opponent's racket (even though they may be technically clear), they will lose the rally (if the striker calls let).
It might, of course, be preferable if the Rules of Squash were to incorporate an explicit standard (say, a foot—or 30 centimeters in countries with an advanced civilization), so that Referees worldwide would all conform to the same standard. The Rules are being revised right now (stand by for some major changes in wording), but this is unlikely to be one of them.
So for the foreseeable future: use your judgement, but use it consistently so that both players know exactly where they stand.