Smiling and always presentable, this small fraternity of referees in snooker and billiards always stands out for its commitment and discipline. They arrive before the players and leave much after they have left.
For most of them it has been a life dedicated to the game without a semblance of recognition. In unison they claim ‘passion’ as the driving force but scarcely admit how they painfully go unrewarded for their service to the game.
Kishore Khurana, Ajay Rastogi, Irfan Mirza and R.B. Ganesh have seen the best and worst of the game. Mirza, as a schoolboy, had stood in line to buy entry to the Satish Mohan-Michael Ferreira billiards final in Calcutta in the 60s. The hall is sparsely full when he officiates today at the championships in progress here.
“Unsung but dedicated,” is how Khurana, 60, looks at his group of 24 national referees.
“We face more pressure than the players and do not seek returns. Ours is a small group (20-30 referees) which gives its best to keep the game going. There is no comfort zone for us. There are times when the facilities for us are below par but we carry on. We are ambassadors of the game too.”
Four decades of association has made Rastogi a veteran of his art.
“I have travelled a lot but it is tough. You can’t sustain your life. All we get is bed, breakfast, one meal a day. Spending from own pocket is the norm. To still continue I must be mad or passionate. But it is a small circuit and the fraternity has deep bonding. There is no bitterness and no politics.”
For Mirza, a player-turned commentator-referee, it is devotion. “We sacrifice a lot. It is sustenance of life actually. It gives me identity and takes me places. At times it is hard on the pockets but I take it as a service to the game.”
Ganesh, 52, played the game and turned referee to stay in touch. “I used to organise tournaments and would stand in as referee too. What I like best is the respect you get from the players and the affection from colleagues. We back each other. The game has seen changes but I would prefer the players also to maintain a dress code as we do. I owe it to the game even though I miss many family functions.” Ganesh, like, Khurana, Rastogi and Mirza, is away 300 days in a year on refereeing duty.
The sad part is that for all their hard work, 12 to 16 hours a day, the referees go home empty handed in terms of financial remuneration. But they do so with smiling faces and keep alive their “passion” to serve the sport.