BLOG: IOC take note, squash leads the way in ethics
By ALAN THATCHER
I have just completed a Blog post comparing how British squash’s recent successes somehow managed to escape the attention of a nation enraptured by sporting glories achieved on playing fields that were made of gold.
The massive amounts of money that flood into golf, tennis, rugby union, cricket and many other sports on the back of extensive TV coverage leave squash very much a poor relation.
I feel moved to invite my cartoonist friend David Banks to conjure up an image of Nick Matthew, James Willstrop and Laura Massaro sitting in the gutter, holding out a begging bowl as our new Wimbledon champion wanders past with a bulging swag bag containing millions of £50 notes.
But the purpose of this article is not to criticise Andy Murray. It is to praise him, and the ethics he shares with our leading squash players.
He is a worthy, hard-working, deserving and noble champion.
What struck me most about his post-match comments was the simple honesty and humility of an outstanding sportsman who has achieved a monumental victory but knows, deep inside, that he has yet to reach his peak, and that only hard work will take him in that direction.
Perhaps it would be unfair on Murray to commission that cartoon, because money is obviously not his driving force (and the fact that he and his mum, Judy, have kindly posed with posters backing squash’s bid for a place in the 2020 Olympics).
After a short holiday, Murray knew that he would be straight back into a brutal training regime overseen by his coach, Ivan Lendl, to prepare for the US Open, scene of his first Major triumph in New York last year.
After just one hour’s sleep following his Wimbledon victory over Novak Djokovic, Murray spoke about the need to dig deep when he turns up in Miami to begin his preparations for America.
He said: “I don’t know exactly how I am going to respond when I get back on the practice court, but the people around you help a lot with that.
“I know that Ivan is not content with how the last 18 months have gone. He thinks I could have won the Australian Open this year and to get me ready for the US Open he will train me really hard over in Miami.
“It’s huge having somebody like that in your corner. He was the ultimate competitor and he just loved winning. His consistency was nothing short of amazing. He reached eight consecutive US Open finals and I hope having him in my corner will help a lot.”
It was easy to make a connection between Murray and fellow Scot Peter Nicol, who stood astride the sport at a time when sponsorship difficulties restricted the number of attempts he could make at winning major events like the World Open and British Open (especially when he switched to playing for England).
I remember one occasion, when the Connaught Club in east London named their show court after Peter, and following all the eulogies about his triumphs, he distilled his success into one simple phrase.
“I think I was just stubborn,” was all he revealed. It was the kind of simple, taciturn remark that Andy Murray would have appreciated.
What goes on deep in a champion’s mind is a fascinating subject. For Murray, he was clearly disturbed by the shootings at his primary school in Dunblane, Scotland.
His muted celebratory gestures towards the heavens after his major triumphs are clearly a message to those whom this tight-knit Scottish community lost on that tragic day.
Murray, like Nicol, spent a long time honing his craft away from the comfort of home.
For Nicol, tragedy struck when he was unable to get a flight home from London to Aberdeen as his mother lay dying of a serious illness.
His response was to throw himself into the most brutal 18 months of training you could imagine, under the eye of his coach, Neil Harvey, as he constructed the fitness framework that carried him through the remainder of his outstanding career.
To me, Nicol’s greatest legacy to squash was his honesty and his willingness to play every ball, no matter how serious the interference.
Watching some recent sporting highlights on TV, it is obvious that cricket and rugby union do not share those levels of sportsmanship.
In the British Lions rugby tour, Australia obviously thought it was perfectly permissible for their captain (yes, he’s the bloke who should be setting an example) to stamp on the head of an opposing player.
In The Ashes cricket first test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, it was disgusting, laughably so, to see an England cricketer stand his ground and refuse to walk when he had clearly been caught out by an opposing player and, unbelievably, the umpire had failed to give the correct decision.
Apologies here to any American readers who may be vague on the rules of cricket. Simply, if you hit the ball and an opposing “fielder” catches the ball before it bounces, then you are “out”. You then walk back to the pavilion and the next batsman is “in”.
Unfortunately, England’s Stuart Broad decided to stand his ground for the simple reason that Australia had used up all their video reviews and could not contest a decision that would probably merit the “Howler of the Century” award.
Various players came forward to stick up for Broad, saying that as plenty of decisions may wrongly go against you during the course of a match (or a career) then you should stand your ground and wait for the umpire’s decision.
I have a very simple, one-word response to that kind of thinking, and it’s not suitable for a family audience.
Squash players, with a minority of exceptions, know when they have hit the tin and will usually concede the point without waiting to hear the referee’s call.
To my way of thinking, it’s the only logical, sensible thing to do. You have already lost the rally. Any pretence otherwise makes you look like an appalling cheat. Cricket, the game that used to pride itself on a reputation for fair-play, has clearly deserted those traditions.
If you know you have cheated, because cheating is what we are talking about, you will know you have cheated in the next few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months.
So will your opponent. So will the audience.
They won’t let you forget.
So, in a sport like squash where you often have less than a second between shots, and need to concentrate fully on every one, why load yourself with negative, damaging emotional baggage?
At the highest level, I like to think that squash has an excellent record when it comes to ethics and honesty.
Generally, the players who repeatedly get drawn into arguments are lower down the rankings, where they belong.
Squash has always had great champions, players with honour and honesty, shining like beacons as they set an example to everyone below them.
It can sometimes be a difficult tunic to wear, but squash delivers a standard of honesty and fair play that the IOC should acknowledge in September.
FOOTNOTE FOR STUART BROAD:
As I have invited you into this conversation via Twitter, I would just like to say this. You are a fantastic cricketer and you scored some valuable runs to help England to victory at Trent Bridge. But that victory will always, always be tarnished by your failure to walk when you were clearly out.
So, if you win by cheating, you haven’t actually won. You’ve won nothing. It’s pointless. It’s worthless. If I saw you cradling that Ashes urn in your hands I would grab it and crush it under foot.
That’s what your victory means to me.
And I’m a fan.