The Case for Squash as the New Olympic Sport Over Baseball, Softball and Wrestling
The time is long gone since I was coached – though I was never better than merely energetic – by the inimitable Nasrullah Khan, member of Pakistan’s legendary squash family and resident professional at the Lansdowne Club in London, where he helped perfect the game of amateur champion Jonah Barrington. The spectator gallery at the Lansdowne, then home of the Open Championship, contained, at a stretch, some 40 exclusive viewers. No sport has been more radically modernized over the last 40 years, in play and presentation, than squash.
Rami Ramachandran, president of the international federation, is optimistic that refinements in the game over the last four years – since golf and rugby sevens were approved for Olympic inclusion ahead of squash at the IOC’s Session of 2009 in Copenhagen – may persuade next month’s IOC Session in Buenos Aires that the sport has preferred status to either baseball/softball or wrestling, the alternative offers put forward by a discredited Executive Board.
The choice is yet one more bizarre twist in a 12-year passage of indecision concerning the Programme. Will the IOC Members deepen the EB’s discomfort by declining to reinstate wrestling – an Olympic sport from antiquity yet earlier thrown off the Programme – or allow them merely to blush with relief by rejecting the other two, baseball/softball likewise having been previously rejected. A complication is that the Members must first approve the establishment of a 25-core Programme that has been proposed. If sufficient wrestling supporters fear that their sport might not be reinstated, they could enforce a rejection of the 25-core proposal, thereby requiring every Olympic sport to be re-elected one by one, which could be chaotic.
An alternative move would be for Members to propose consideration of squash at the Session in Sochi in five months’ time as a special case, so to speak as a demonstration sport.
“When I attended the presentation to the IOC four years ago,” Ramachandran recalls, “I had only been president a couple of weeks – a greenhorn. Subsequently, we went back to the IOC to understand what was wrong. In consequence, the sport has been further transformed. The way it is now played, the ambience, the refereeing, the playing surface, the visibility – everything has been enhanced.”
With universality within any sport a guiding light for acceptance, the case for squash would seem irresistible. Played in five continents, it has generated (though not simultaneously) men’s and women’s world champions from each continent. There are 143 affiliated national federations from 185 countries playing the game, among which the game is played on 50,000 courts.
“We have full gender parity,” Ramachandran says, “with equal prize money. Within the anti-doping campaign, we are 100% compliant. Our in-house TV production company attends all major events in nearly 50 nations.”
So adaptable is squash’s itinerant professional circuit that the IF’s new all-glass courts, giving TV-viewing access from all angles, is transportable to Hollywood-style venues: Hong Kong harbour, Times Square, the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal. Ramachandran’s enthusiasm is boundless.
“We can now beam by remote control competitors’ names, or sponsors’, onto the floor of the court [as in televised rugby or cricket],” he says. “With air-conditioning, the players have a constant temperature. There are now three referees plus video replays on disputed points, plus a changed scoring system allowing points on the opponent’s serve.”
Just to press home the innovative vigour of the game, the 2014 World Junior Championships, men’s and women’s, has just been allocated to Windhoek, Namibia. No longer is this the sport of gentry: the criticism of being “a fourth racket game” is increasingly hollow. Table tennis titles have become almost the exclusive property of China.
David Miller, who covered 22 Olympic Games and 14 World Cups, can be reached on Twitter @DavidOlympic. The above article was first appeared in The Sport Intern, a blog published by Karl-Heinz Huba in Lorsch, Germany. This article is reprinted here with permission from the blog publisher. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com.