IT has been quite a 24 hours for snooker’s refereeing community. First great new hope Marcel Eckardt got the full Ronnie O’Sullivan treatment in Llandudno, and then came news of Michaela Tabb’s resignation.
Germany’s Eckardt should not be too upset about O’Sullivan launching in to a tirade at the World Grand Prix about him “getting in the way”, “treading on his toes” and “stopping him making about three centuries”.
It is probably a rite of passage, badge of honour even to have a disgruntled player having a go at you as a referee at some point, and with the Rocket that is just as likely to be after a 4-0 win as in this case over Rob Milkins, as a disappointing defeat.
Eckardt is referred to as “boy wonder” by the other referees, and was awarded his first ranking final at the German Masters for a series of consistently high-level displays.
Even if a video review of the match should reveal that O’Sullivan had a point, it would be a case of lesson learned, consider any improvement that could be made and move on.
In actual fact it has been a demanding season for the referees, and tournament director Mike Ganley who puts together the roster for the major tournaments.
The issues that have ultimately led to Tabb’s departure, namely a row over an unpaid ‘discretionary’ bonus last year that turned nasty, meant the two-time Crucible final referee Scot has not been used since.
It has been impossible to prevent speculation and conjecture about Tabb’s situation with one of the best, most popular and most recognisable officials suddenly absent with no proper explanation.
But having flown home from the Australian Open mid-tournament as matters came to a head – and who knows what more there may be to come out, or what may be said by both sides on availability and use – Tabb has since refereed only exhibitions such as the Snooker Legends.
It is a great shame that a dispute over what it is understood in the first instance to be a relatively small amount of money has led directly or indirectly to Tabb being lost to the game.
When you look around at the number of woman referees now punching their weight on the tour, there is little doubt all looked up to Tabb as an inspiration, breaking through in a previously male-dominated arena.
In addition there was the diagnosis of cancer for Leo Scullion, a hugely popular man with his colleagues, players, tour staff, media and public alike – and this has been hard to cope with for a close-knit team, many of whom have visited their friend in Scotland.
With Wales’s Eirian Williams also retiring this season last November, there have been challenges for Ganley and his team among the senior ranks, but the show has gone on.
It is probably a good moment to pay tribute to the senior tour referees Jan Verhaas, Brendan Moore and Olivier Marteel, who have shouldered a huge workload this year including plenty of assessing of the next wave of officials coming through in Asia and Europe.
Paul Collier, who combines refereeing with tournament office duties, has also been very busy and for all of them it has been a difficult year, with Scullion’s illness deeply affecting everyone, and the mystery surrounding Tabb’s absence so often the elephant in the room.
On the plus side, a crop of younger referees have emerged at the higher level and taken their chance, and officials such as Tatiana Woollaston will get more experience at the World Championship qualifiers, while Eckardt has already experienced major finals.
Photograph by Monique Limbos