Andrea Santamaria has long been involved in squash since she started playing aged 18 and is now one of the leading referees in the professional game, officiating matches at some of the biggest tournaments in the world on the PSA World Tour.
Despite her success, Santamaria is one of a handful of female referees in the game and hopes to see this change with the help of initiatives, including the new World Squash Officiating platform, encourage more women to get involved in squash and refereeing.
“I’ve been involved in squash since I was 18. I started playing when I was 18/19 and it’s a big part of my life,” said Santamaria. “I enjoy playing the game, I’ve played some club squash, local leagues and just enjoyed the atmosphere.
“There are very few female referees and it’s a way to keep involved with the sport. I saw refereeing as a way of keeping in the sport once I’m unable to play.
“If you’ve played squash and moving on to be a referee, that’s the best experience you could have. It takes time and you have to plug away at it and attend a lot of squash clubs around the country, but you can move up and go to some wonderful places and meet some amazing people.”
Despite playing the sport herself from a young age, Santamaria admits she is unsure of the reasons why more women aren’t involved at a higher level in the game and believes there needs to be a way to bridge the gender divide.
“It’s a stressful time and it would be great to have more women. We need to try and get more women and by doing that we need to make women feel welcome and involved.
“It can be very daunting when you walk into a room and there’s 15 men and you’re the only female, but once you get to know everybody and everyone is there to do the same job. With any sport you’ve always got that male and female divide but I think you just have to keep plugging away and get those females into the refereeing side of things.
“If you look at the crowds at a squash match, venues, on the squash court, predominantly it’s men playing squash. We are doing our best and England Squash have played a big part to getting women involved in squash but historically it has been a male sport at club level definitely, there’s far more males that play squash compared to women. We are trying to get more women playing squash and I think if you can get more women aware of the sport, get them interested in playing, see what a great atmosphere it is then you can take it from there.
“The world of squash – whether women find it hard because of the commitments they have to get away from home and justify playing squash when you’ve got kids and a family, I don’t know whether that has a bearing on it, but it always seems easier for men to go and have a game of squash rather than women. I don’t know if that’s the reason why.
“Girls play as juniors and then we don’t see as many making that transition into senior squash, they seem to fall whether that’s down to careers or families. There always seems to be a gap for women whether that’s referees or players.
“If you don’t have the women players then you don’t have the women referees following on, it’s a tough one. The PSA and England Squash are working hard to get women involved and hopefully we will be able to get some referees out of there in a few years’ time.
“If you can do a good job and let them know that you’re consistent, you want the game to flow, then I think it should be irrelevant whether it’s a male or a female it’s all about the job that you’re doing.”
Santamaria also admitted that despite the challenges that comes with being a referee, there is nowhere else she’d rather be.
“You’ve got the best seat in the house to watch a fantastic game of squash. It gets you involved on the Tour, you meet the players. Yes, it can be very stressful at times, nobody wants to be sat there, it’s stressful for the players, it’s stressful from the crowd because everyone is the best referee when they’re sat watching a squash match, everyone has an opinion.
“You have to have a thick skin, but I think the pros outweigh the cons. You’re there surrounded, it’s a great atmosphere and there’s no other sport where you’re sat amongst the crowd and soaking all that up.”
Learn more about the world of refereeing by visiting our new WSO platform developed jointly with the Professional Squash Association.