There are instructions in place at the end of Section 5 of the rule book, called ‘Assistance by Officials’, which deals with the light canopy and what to do in case of a player being disabled. The term ‘assistance’ goes way beyond this however, and can make a frame of snooker that much more enjoyable and also speed things up if handled properly.
Let us first put to bed the official rules, which state that the referee or marker is at liberty to assist the player in striking without encumbrance when hampered by equipment provided, specifically the light shade.
It is also permissible to give any aid to disabled players that does not contravene the rules, which includes allowing play to proceed without calling a foul when both feet are off the floor if the striker is wheelchair bound.
Assistance in choosing which stroke to play or how to play such a stroke is not sanctioned, only facilitating the execution of that stroke.
Another form of assistance is the cleaning of a ball upon a reasonable request from the striker. It is never the referee’s duty to decide when a ball needs cleaning. A coloured ball can of course, be cleaned any time it has been pocketed and before being spotted and the cue ball whenever it’s in hand. It can also be ensured that the balls are fit for play before setting up the table. Once the frame has commenced the balls in play may only be cleaned at the express request of the striker and only by the referee. The position of the ball to be cleaned must be carefully marked so as to be able to return it to the exact position from which it was removed. As to the wording of the instructions in the rule book, the referee is at liberty to refuse the request for a ball to be cleaned if it is unreasonable. To ask a referee to extract a ball from the middle of a pack to clean it, or one that comes to rest touching another ball, where it would be difficult in the extreme to lift it without disturbing the ball it is touching and/or to return it to its position, or oft repeated requests to have the cue ball cleaned in a ploy to gain thinking time, are a few of examples of unreasonableness that could also be seen to be trying to gain an unfair advantage.
If any referee is in position to assist with rests and/or other equipment, then I believe that the player is obligated to allow them to do so without interference. This means that as soon as the stroke is made the equipment should be surrendered to the waiting referee. The balls do not all have to come to a standstill for a player’s turn to be complete if the eventual outcome is obvious. Holding on to the rest is unacceptable unless a ball has been potted and the next stroke also requires the rest. The referee, upon taking the rest must then place it back on its hooks and then still has to get into position to adjudicate on the next stroke, so holding onto it is time-wasting and is frustrating for the referee. The referee does not need thanks every time this duty is performed, just compliance.
My advice to any referee is to let the player deal with the rest if a ball needs spotting, otherwise assist when and if necessary. The long equipment provided or brought by the player is a special case as time can be saved by assisting even when balls need spotting and common sense should rule a decision either way.
Clearing the pockets is another way of assisting. This makes sure that if any ball is struck into a pocket which then rebounds back onto the bed of the table, it is not because the pocket is overloaded. Section 3 Rule 3 (m) says that the striker has no redress if this were to happen, which would certainly be unfair if it were the fault of the referee. There is plenty of room in the six pockets to take all fifteen reds, with a maximum of 3 in three of the pockets and 2 in each of the others.
Do the players have their own cue extensions and has one just been used? It is entirely acceptable for the referee to take it from the player and place it in their case or hold onto it behind the back until an opportunity arises, as long as the referee is not prevented from being in position for the next stroke by such an action.
Ensuring that the equipment provided is at hand and in good order will save hunting around the room for a goose neck or spider or any other rarely used aid, disturbing other matches and delaying yours.
When re-spotting balls the referee should refrain from calling any score until the ball has been released and the referee is sure that it is spotted correctly. This tested and proven method tells the striker that the next stroke may then be played in the certain knowledge that a foul cannot be called because a stroke was played before the ball was re-spotted. This is another way of speeding up the game and instilling confidence in the players that the referee is competent.
All these things can save precious seconds during a frame and if in a timed frame, help to ensure that it is completed within the time allocated.