When squash at the Commonwealth Games gets underway on Friday, Wales’ Roy Gingell will be heading up a team consisting of officials from seven different Commonwealth Nations as the singles Tournament Referee, supported by England’s John Massarella as the doubles Tournament Referee.
For Gingell, who will be refereeing at his sixth Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the opportunity to oversee a major tournament like the Commonwealth Games is a rare opportunity that offers something unique to his staple of top-level tournaments on the PSA World Tour.
“They call the Commonwealth Games ‘the friendly Games,’ don’t they?” Gingell says. “And I think that’s a really good description. It’s true of the whole atmosphere off court. The crowd is really good and it’s a bit of a party atmosphere.
“It’s a special event in the calendar for me and no doubt for the players.”
Gingell, who began his sporting life playing for Wales as a junior cricketer before picking up a racket at Maesteg club, which was built by his sister and her partner, adds that with the Commonwealth Games’ unique atmosphere comes unique challenges.
“Although the crowd will contain a number of squash enthusiasts, a large percentage of the crowd is made up of just sports enthusiasts who have decided to get a ticket for the squash,” he says.
“The decision making is the same, but with the presentation side of refereeing, there have to be a few tweaks to educate the non-playing fans. That’s what we work on, particularly on the doubles side of things with it not being played as much.
“Refereeing squash is unique because we sit right in the crowd. Which is why presentation is important, because there can be hostile environments and sledging can come from fans.”
The importance of finding what he calls ‘coping mechanisms’ and ‘controlling the controllable’ is something that Gingell, in both his role as Tournament Referee and as a leading figure in World Squash Officiating – an online education and appraisal portal designed to standardise officiating qualifications worldwide – is eager to emphasise to those he guides.
“When I do workshops and seminars I talk about what I call controlling the controllables. It’s about the planning; failing to prepare is preparing to fail. That’s what I teach when I meet my refs, if you do your homework and do your preparation, things like getting to the venue early and really understanding the technology or scoring systems being used, then everything within your remit you can control. That makes it easier when something comes out of left field, which it will.
“It may sound stupid but going back to my Maesteg days and I’d be refereeing Super League matches, the crowd used to be up to the rafters. They were all my friends and locals, and they’d still rip into me!
“It’s important to bank those sorts of experiences, because it will help you soak in the atmosphere of some historic venues instead of freezing in the chair.”
Gingell admits that his own progress from club referee to one of the game’s leading figures has not been without bumps, and he references a particular incident as both one of his worst moments as a referee and one of his best learning experiences.
In the opening round of the 1997 British Open, England’s Paul Johnson – known by many squash fans around the world for his commentary work on SQUASHTV – was two games and match ball up against No.3 seed and future World No.1 Peter Nicol. Johnson, so it seemed to both himself and Nicol, won the crucial point and he and Nicol had shaken hands and walked off court, only to be called back on by Gingell, who had felt an earlier pickup was questionable.
“It’s something I wouldn’t do now, I wouldn’t get involved now,” Gingell admits. “They were walking off court, I told them ‘no, go back on court,’ and Peter Nicol came back to beat him! Paul and I get on great now, but he didn’t speak to me for about six or seven years after that!
“It gets worse, though. A few of years later, I got a call from someone working for a BBC sports radio programme hosted by Adrian Chiles. It was for a segment called the ‘Top 10 Worst Refereeing Decisions of All Time.’ It was recorded live and I went on and, except for mine, every single one was a football decision. I think I ended up coming about third or fourth, behind Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ and Clive Thomas’ decision in the 1978 World Cup.”
“But reflecting after that match was a massive learning experience for me and I’m a better referee for it.”
Reflecting on mistakes as much as successes is something Gingell often mulls over with Massarella, who has become one of Gingell’s closest friends in their years working in squash.
“John and I have been friends for 20 years. I got married two-and-a-half years ago. John was my best man at my wedding and we’ve been a bit of a double act to be fair. During our journey, he’s been my critical friend and I’ve been his. We’re best mates and we analyse and learn together, and identify between ourselves when we’ve stuffed up, and then worked out solutions.”
Since that match in the British Open, Gingell has risen to the top of refereeing and points to his own Commonwealth Games experiences as some of the most special in his life.
“After that, I learned and I’ve been really fortunate to do thousands of top class matches at hundreds of events and I’m very lucky to have refereed at every major event out there.
“Refereeing the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games men’s singles final between Peter Nicol and David Palmer, that was really a privilege and a massive accolade and ranks as one of my most memorable refereeing appointments in my whole career to be honest.”