A Q&A with World Doubles Championship Referee Mike Collins
With 27 years’ experience in squash officiating, Mike Collins is one of the most respected referees in world squash. The South African, who has refereed World Championships and Commonwealth Games, sits on the WSO Advisory Board and chairs the WSF’s Rules Commission, will be returning to Glasgow – where he refereed for the 2014 Commonwealth Games – to take on the role of Championship Referee.
In a Q&A session with WSF media, Collins reflected on why the 2022 WSF World Doubles Squash Championships in Scotstoun, Glasgow, promises to be a great event for fans, players and officials alike!
You’re returning for another major event in Glasgow, what’s it like to be coming back?
“When I came here for the Commonwealth Games, I must say I loved the city. We [referees] had a great experience. I’ve been lucky enough to go to a few Games but I remember just how the whole city was so welcoming and hospitable to everybody. It was wonderful, and quite festive, with everybody there for all the different sports. And Glasgow itself is very pleasant; I remember some excellent pubs and restaurants!
“The spectators [in Scotstoun] were great, there were so many people around the glass court and it was packed with spectators. Every time a match came on there were Scottish bagpipes playing and people marching the players onto court. It was a great experience!”
And is it these sorts of great experiences that have kept you in the game for such a long time?
“I’m obviously very passionate about squash and it’s given me the ability to be part of some very exciting matches all over the world, watching the very top men and woman players.
“Over the years I’ve enjoyed seeing the new players coming through and witnessing their development and ascendancy up the players’ ranks. I’ve been part of that lot of those matches, and being able to look back and think that I was actually involved with some of those matches is often very fulfilling and satisfying for me.
“And obviously just the people you meet; I’ve met some incredible people. Especially officials or other referees all over the world, we’re quite a supportive and tight group, so you feel that they’re more friends than fellow officials. And that’s been true of every country I’ve been to. It’s been fantastic meeting and making friends.”
This time in Scotstoun, you’ll be the Championship Referee. What does that role entail?
“It’s very different to a match referee. Normally, when I go, I’m one of the referees officiating at the event, whereas the Championship Referee is in charge of the team of referees who will be refereeing at the event.
“In the build up to the event one of the roles is selecting the refereeing team and then there’s a training element to it as well. We prepare videos to help to give everybody an idea as to what the decision making should be to try and get consistency with all the referees.
“Then, once the actual event starts, I’ll be busy doing allocation of the referees to different matches, as well as keeping an eye on things to try and make sure that there are no problems. I’ll also be the liaison between the various managers and coaches and working with the tournament director to help make sure that the whole event goes as smoothly as possible.”
What are some of the challenges that referees face in doubles?
“When you’ve got four people in a court, things happen very quickly. Obviously in both singles and doubles you have got to be alert, but I think doubles brings a different element: things happen extremely quickly down the middle and you’ve got to watch four sets of legs and eight feet moving around. Trying to catch sight of the ball amongst all that can often [be difficult] as there can be bodies obstructing your vision. So you have to be fully alert and concentrating as to exactly what’s happening and how situations come about before there’s any appeal or query.”
I understand this year there’s going to be a new interpretation of the rules?
“We want to keep matches more continuous, with fewer stoppages just for lets and to bring points to a conclusion a bit quicker.
“Doubles has been evolving continuously over the years. When it was first introduced, it was with the intention that it would be a really exciting spectacle for spectators to watch and draw more people to to squash who might not have been familiar with it. One of the early issues, though, was due to the skill level of players, and with the court in those days being a bit narrower, matches just went on endlessly. With the rules as they were written at that stage, most decisions ended in a let and a single point would often carry on for 10 minutes with about five or six lets in between and matches could be hours long.
“So there’s been an effort ever since to make doubles matches more exciting and not as long. There have been a number of innovations over the years: the tin has been lowered and the courts have been made wider. With regard to the actual rules, we’ve been trying to establish where there could be more strokes or no-lets, obviously fairly so, but whereas before everything ended in a let, we’ve changed the rules to show that in certain situations, there will be a stroke awarded to to one of the parties to bring that rally to an end.
“So now that we’ve adopted the rules from the AGM in the last year, with some new changes [to interpreting play], there will definitely be more situations which will lead to either stroke or no-lets. Of course, yes-lets are still a perfectly reasonable outcome, but there should be fewer.”
What’s the best way to make sure the players understand the new rules?
“Consistency is extremely important, both in singles and doubles. But definitely now that we’ve got a new sort of philosophy in doubles, I think it’s going to be very important going forward.
“It’s very new for players, managers, and referees. So all of us are going to be trying to get some sort of level of consistency in the application of the rules and the understanding of it all. Naturally it is going to take some adjustment, but all we can do as a referee team is try to be as consistent as we can, and make sure that we’re keeping the same parameters in decisions. And then, hopefully, everybody will start accepting that and see that they’re reasonable.”