Chris Sinclair, Squash official leads the way

Female Squash players in action
Author:  Cathy Reid
Issue: Volume 4 Number 1

Ironically, Australia’s most recognised squash referee Chris Sinclair knows she’s done a good job when no one notices her.

‘If you’re doing the job well, calmly and coolly, nobody should pay any attention to you at all,’ Chris said. If people walk away from a match and say “Oh, by the way who was the referee?” that suits me.’

Her passion for refereeing squash comes from a deeply ingrained love of the game.

‘I once heard a player say referees are just frustrated players and I guess that’s right in my case. If I could play at that top level I would, because I just adore the game. But I can’t, so refereeing is a way I can contribute.’

However, her insight into the game is much greater than that of many players and her reaction time just as fast.

‘You’ve got two combatants in an enclosed area with no net between them, they’ve each got a weapon, there’s a missile travelling around at over 200 kilometres an hour, rebounding off the wall about every three seconds and the players expect the correct decision - immediately.’

While some might find that incredibly stressful, Chris rises to the challenge at the highest level. She was the first woman to be appointed as an international referee, then as a world squash referee, joining eight men on the elite list.

‘I’ve officiated all the leading men, and they don’t have any problems with me refereeing their matches, although I’ve had to earn their respect.

‘But if there is a man who hasn’t been refereed by me before, he’ll whip around the first time he hears my voice, as he’s not expecting a woman to be in that position.’

While Chris does not ever get nervous before refereeing a major event, she takes the responsibility very seriously. ‘I certainly get apprehensive before a big match, but you have to have confidence, not arrogance. Playing on my mind is the fact that any decisions I make could impact on the income of the players.’

However, she is quick to point out that referees do not get paid. They do it out of a commitment to the sport. Keen to see younger referees move up the ranks, Chris has been 'putting her time where her mouth is'.

‘I’ve been writing a mentor training program and an assessor training program for Squash Australia and for the World Squash Federation.’ She’s mentoring a 34-year-old male referee from Victoria, and has been travelling to overseas tournaments with him.

‘We’ve got a scholarship from the Australian Sports Commission for $16,000 to help get one person to international accreditation by the end of this year. I’ll give him my time, my expertise and my advice and I’m confident he can get there.’ What remains to be seen is whether he will be able to emulate his mentor — no easy challenge.

Chris has refereed at 17 world championships, two world doubles championships, a World Cup, two Commonwealth Games and was the only Australian official in any sport to referee an individual final at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. All up she has been officiating for more than 20 years.

‘We’ve all got to stop sometime though. I thought about retiring after the 1998 Commonwealth Games and then again after the 2002 Commonwealth Games, but I’m still here and I may be Championship Referee for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Perhaps that will be my swansong.’

To referee at the Commonwealth Games in Australia will certainly be the pinnacle of her impressive career. ‘The world’s best players will all be there in Melbourne and it’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase our sport.’

The first time squash was included in the Commonwealth Games was 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, where Chris officiated at the sport’s first ever gold medal match. ‘Refereeing the match was good, but even more exciting was seeing two Australians (Michelle Martin and Sarah Fitz-Gerald) being presented with their gold and silver medals afterwards.

‘It was just fantastic to see squash get that recognition. I wasn’t moving out of my seat for anyone, not even the photographers. They wanted me to move, but I told them I’d earned my spot.’

She’s aiming to have a large pool of highly qualified Australian officials in place for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. ‘Under regulations, only two-thirds of the 30 referees can be from the host country, so we will be aiming to have 20 Australians who can referee and mark. Every voice we hear on television, every marker, everyone calling the score, I sincerely hope will be an Australian voice.’

She’d also like to see the squash courts over-run with spectators as it has been a constant frustration for her that the sport doesn’t have the profile or get the crowds she believes it deserves. ‘I just wish people would appreciate the sport. The players have superb racquet skills, their reaction times are as quick if not quicker than tennis players, they have the endurance of long distance runners and the action is non-stop. ‘At the Commonwealth Games we will be in the same building as swimming so people only have to take a step to the left and they’ll be in the squash centre.’

You get the feeling that even if she does retire, Chris will still be working away in the background, not only pushing forward potential world-class referees, but also trying to boost the profile of squash.


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