We were bellowed at. And they were always right. We traveled to all corners of the earth and were followed by a group of elderly men with grey hair and thick glasses. They had devastating authority over us. But they kept us on the right path in life. They often reminded us to not argue, stay on court, and not open the door. Asked us politely to not question their decisions, never drop the racquet, and to not think for ourselves.
In locker rooms we amiably talked about referees as the fathers we never had. Only these fathers had power. Real power.
They could send you through to the next round or send you on a 15-hour flight back home. Match ball down in Hong Kong. Easy let? Think again. -No let. Have a good flight! Collision at 9-9 in the fourth in Philadelphia. Stroke please? You wish. -Conduct point against you. Good luck saving match ball! And when in utter bewilderment you opened the back wall door to ask for some kind of explanation the man in charge yelled as loud as possible: ‘STAY ON COURT AND CLOSE THE GODDAMN DOOR!’
Our fathers knew what was good for us.
During my second round of the Qatar Classic so many years ago I aggressively spoke to myself in my beautiful guttural sounding language. Words of encouragement in Dutch after I hit the tin. Without a single trace of panic, insecurity or desperation the ref stepped up and played his part. He climbed on his pedestal and ordered me to ‘refrain from speaking my own language.’
Interesting, I thought. Do I have to speak the ref’s language when I talk to myself because he can’t speak mine? Do I have to translate the mental advice I mutter under my own breath into a global language my opponent understands? Or should I perhaps pronounce my Dutch words less g-g-guttural in order to sound more soft spoken? All these questions going through my mind strangely didn’t do wonders for my performance. I ended up losing the match and wandering through the Qatari desert for days in total confusion.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel in referee-land, guys. Momentarily we are on the verge of implementing a new system which uses the latest state of the art technology to stay in control of highly contested professional matches. We’ve designed ultralight remote controlled collars for the players to wear around their necks during gameplay.
The moment they rebel against the ref, open their mouth, open the door, or speak their own language the referee has an option to send an electric current to the offending player. The misdemeanor can be categorized into three levels: 5, 20, or 50 milliamperes. Five resulting in a slight shock, twenty in a painful one, and fifty in extreme pain, respiratory arrest, and severe muscular contraction.
In addition to the successful Pavlov method we subtract world ranking points every time players show emotion during play. Passionate colorful players who cannot control their emotions will slowly drop and disappear of the world rankings. The well behaved boy scouts will rise to the top and will be all there’s left for fans from all over the world to admire.
The last six months I’ve been part of a testing panel and the results have been staggering. Needless to say: it wasn’t a painless experience but after a few weeks my behavior had improved. The moment I opened my hotel room door to go down for breakfast a referee happened to walk down the corridor. He just glanced at me for a second but I immediately closed the door, went back inside, and didn’t speak my own language for days.