LJ Anjema feature

Olympic efforts in professional squash

Article by Todd Harrity and Kristi Maroc

With the 2012 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships creeping up, the world’s most elite Olympic-level athletes will be heading to Philadelphia to challenge each other for one of the most coveted prizes in the world of squash – the U.S. Open title.

As a World Series event, one of a select group of professional squash tournaments that are recognized as the pinnacle of the sport, the U.S. Open showcases the absolute best of the best.

The athletes are at the top of the game, having trained for their entire lives to excel at their chosen sport – a sport which is considered one of the toughest in the world according to an ESPN study, and the healthiest in the world according to a Forbes Magazine report.

To the wonder of many, and regardless of its appeal as an intense, challenging and gripping sport, squash has yet to secure a place on the Olympic program despite an enduring fight from representatives for many decades.  The sport was very close to getting into the 2016 Games – golf, rugby 7s, and squash were the three hot candidates for inclusion in Rio 2016 – however unfortunately squash just missed out.

The Olympics are considered to be the height of world sporting accomplishment, and given the opportunity the elite professional players contesting the upcoming U.S. Open would be playing in the Olympics right now.  And they deserve it, having trained intensely and devotedly for many years to be among the best athletes in the world.

But unfortunately for squash players the opportunity to showcase their talents in a competition that attains such prominent exposure, media coverage and unsurpassed worldwide recognition is not yet a reality.

“It is so heart-breaking when you know this sport has so much to offer and we have got everything it takes to be an Olympic sport,” says Nicol David, World #1 women’s squash player and six time World Open champion.

“It is probably the most all-round sport you can find. To be in the game and not see it in the Olympics is so sad.”

Now once again the squash community is stepping up the fight towards a bid for the 2020 Olympics.  The decision for sports to be included in 2020 will be made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) next year, and currently there is a strong campaign underway to promote the bid.

On World Squash Day, October 20th 2012, an attempt is being made by the squash community around the globe to play the ‘biggest sports match in history’.  Clubs in countries across the world are participating in the event in which two teams of 20 players, each representing 'Team Squash' or 'Team 2020' will battle it out to create sporting history in an effort to generate worldwide awareness and recognition of the sport.

According to the World Squash Day website, the target is to make headlines around the world to Back The Bid for Squash to be included in the 2020 Olympics. To do that we need to have thousands of players joining in on the day. Not only will it be the biggest squash match in history, we want to make it the biggest-ever sports match in history.

Despite the fact that IOC has denied squash in its last two attempts, hopes remain high that all the effort and hard work behind this third attempt will be fruitful.  All squash players and clubs worldwide are encouraged to participate.

“The players want it and squash enthusiasts all over the world are desperate to see the sport included in the Olympic Games,” Chief Executive of the World Squash Federation, Andrew Shelley says.

In this bid squash is in the running with baseball, roller sports, softball, climbing and wakeboarding, karate and wushu (a form of Chinese martial arts).

Many of squash’s most well known and top players and figures are actively in support of the Olympic bid, voicing strong opinions and identifying the recent innovations that make squash the best candidate for the 2020 Games.

Recent developments including the latest high definition cameras, four glass wall courts, and a standard, universal scoring system are among the innovations that make squash a more attractive candidate for the Olympics this time around.

Natalie Grainger, former world #1 and U.S. Open winner in 2004, 2007, and 2008 says that squash is an ideal sport for the Olympics due to its ability to be a gripping televised sport.

“I have seen television footage of squash in such high definition that you can see the muscles rippling on the players’ legs as they change direction.  You can see the ball very clearly as it’s being bashed around all over the court – it’s vivid, and action-packed, and makes you feel like you are right there watching it live,” she says.

Former Men’s World #1 and U.S. Open champion in 2004 and 2005, Lee Beachill  believes the inclusion of squash in the Olympics should be a priority over a number of other events.

“How much does the Olympics mean to the top footballers?  I think that it is wrong for a sport to have Olympic status if the Olympics isn’t its biggest event.

“When the top players from a sport don’t go to the Olympics, then it shouldn’t be there.  The Olympics would be the biggest thing in squash," he says.

To emphasize just that point, earlier this year Nicol David made an astounding claim:

“I would happily trade all of my six World Open titles for an Olympic Gold,” she said.

Sadly, it is likely that 28-year old Nicol may be beyond a suitable age to participate in the Olympics in 2020 even if the bid is successful.

Regardless, her enthusiasm for the plight remains – in addition to the millions of passionate and devoted squash players around the world.

Former world #1 Jahangir Khan, often considered the world’s best ever squash player having won ten British Open titles, six World Open titles and being unbeaten for 555 consecutive matches, just recently penned an article expressing his eagerness to see squash finally make the Olympics.

“I really hope that the next generation of players get the opportunity to take part – they deserve a chance to try for the medals I missed out on," he says.

“Squash is already played in every major multi-sport event, including the Commonwealth Games, the Pan Am Games, and the Asian Games. But competing in the Olympic Games would be the most important opportunity for a player – and winning gold the ultimate prize in the sport.”

Such tremendous and extensive efforts by the international squash community and such high hopes for so many years show just how special the Olympics would be for the professional players and fans alike.

If squash does make it on to the 2020 program of Olympic sports, no doubt it would inspire the greatest efforts from the world’s best players, all playing their hearts out to be the first Olympic squash champion.

In a game with 150 years of history and millions of enthusiastic players from every continent in the world, what a spectacular thing it will be to finally see.

 

To find out more about the Squash's 2020 Bid, head to squash2020.com

To learn more about the 'Team Squash vs Team 2020' event on World Squash Day and register your club, head to worldsquashday.com

 

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