Thursday, July 8, 2010

Robot Squash Referees

After squash lost out on it’s bid to become an Olympic sport there was a lot of discussion about the game and why it didn’t receive this arbitrary form of legitimization.

One group suggested that the rules were too difficult for the average viewer to understand. The WSF agreed and officially sanctioning not one but three scoring systems. No confusion there.

Another group forwarded the oft heard complaint that “the ball is just too hard to see on TV”. This was apparently also a problem for hockey at one time: Remember the glowing hockey puck? Luckily, it was generally agreed that this isn’t a problem and if you don't agree I suggest that you go watch a Jean De Lierre match video and tell me that you can’t follow the ball.

Perhaps the loudest group was the one that claimed that squash didn’t make the Olympics due to the lack of civility that a lot of players display on court. (We all saw the video of what’s his name from what’s that ivy league school and were hurt to see blogs write articles with titles like "Squash Players are just the worst!") The reason the players act this way? Their parents brought them up wrong? No. The refs let them. A player relies on the ref to keep control of the match and if they don’t bad things can happen.

I think it’s the decision making process that accompanies a call for a “Let”. But that’s not a reason to get rid of “lets”. (And please, don’t get me started on that wacky concept of five “lets” per match. I heard a rumour that this same group wants professional players to eschew the “let” altogether! Goggles and helmets will be mandatory.)

No, I’ve always felt that if we could just get rid of the referee as the “flash point of a match” we would be set. What I mean is, as it is stands now, the decision on whether a call is a “let” or a “stroke” is one person’s to make and if the player doesn’t like it he or she knows who to turn on. (I saw this in the Grand Circuit Finale where a disgruntled player lost his temper, and the match, at a suspected biaised call. Nasty words ensued.)

What if, instead, a player would request a let from the faceless robot who would render an obviously non-partisan verdict? We’re getting close to this with the "three ref system" where three referees vote on each call and the majority rules.

But wait, there’s something better and we don’t have to wait for robots!

It’s appropriately called the “Let, No Let Technology” and it’s available right now. (FYI - I've suggested calling it the "Robot Ref 5000" for marketing purposes:) According to Raghbir Badhan, of the newly resurrected “Unsquashble”, the only thing missing from the equation is someone who “has the guts to use it in a tournament.”

The "ROBOT REF 5000" interface. How simple is that?

This technology uses a web server that is accessible through any gagdet that connects to the web (iPhone, iPad etc) and allows three referees to consult without hand signals or raised eyebrows. Each ref enters their decision and then the result is flashed onto the ceiling of the court.

How cool is that? Angry with the decisions. Curse the roof not the ref and get back to the game.

I’ve seen it in action and it’s awesome. I only yelled at the roof once:)

Want to use it in your tournament? Email Raghbir Badhan:

Tell Raghbir that Squash Republic sent you and let us know how it works at your tournament.

1 comment:

Big Al said...

Hi Rob
Please see my article in the last issue of Squash Player magazine suggesting the introduction of a video referee for major tournaments.
Players could have a certain number of appeals per match to a video referee who is able to watch a replay of the rally and make his or her decision accordingly. It's so simple and would eliminate the ugly scenes of player confrontation.
At the ISS Canary Wharf Classic, we are fortunate to have a fabulous venue that comes equipped with a jumbo screen sited above the front wall.
We can instantly replay any incident to keep the crowd involved and generate moments of huge tension before the decision is flashed up on the screen.
All the best,