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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Blog: IOC take note, squash leads the way in ethics

Alan Thatcherhttps://squashmad.com
Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad and the new Squash 200 Partnership, building clubs of the future. Founder of the Kent Open and co-promoter of the St. James's Place Canary Wharf Classic. Author and Public Speaker.

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Peter Nicol always set a great example on court
Peter Nicol always set a great example on court

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:

Dear Stuart,
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. I had heard about the Broad incident, but hadn’t seen it till today. I agree with you that something like this will haunt Broad long after the sweet taste of victory in that Test has faded.
    As Mark Antony said “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones”.

    It reminds me of the Greg Chappel incident when he, as captain, ordered his younger brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of the innings underarm so that New Zealand could not hit the 6 which would give them a win. Nobody remembers the scores of that Game, but Greg Chappell’s name will forever be tarnished because of that temporary lapse in sporting spirit

    • Totally agree. Something similar happened between two local cricket clubs. It was years before they would play each other again.
      Squash is a hard, fast, physical sport. Aggression can take many forms, but cheating should not be one of them.

  2. Nice article Alan. 5 stars for calling a spade a spade. Any words for Brad Haddin? Or do you consider his ‘nick’ not worth walking for?

  3. It was never going to happen, but wouldn’t it have been nice if Cook, his Captain, had sent out a message to Broad to get his pathetic arse off the pitch. The only remote justification was Trott’s wrongful dismissal earlier on by a shocking DRS decision. The only way that Broad can retrieve any semblance of integrity would be to step back and flatten the stumps, first ball, when he next goes in to bat.

    • Hi Eric
      In squash terms, that would be the equivalent of serving out when you have gained an unfair advantage.
      Sadly, the England cricket captain has ordered his players NOT to walk throughout the rest of the Ashes series.
      Alan

  4. Hi Alan,

    I am torn regarding the Broad incident. What he did was not ‘cheating’ as it did not transgress any written cricket law, only the nebulous ‘spirit of the game’. Some would say even this has always been a myth in itself – witness W.G Grace’s bombastic refusal to leave the field when bowled – “They’ve come to see me bat, not you bowl!”

    Although i am obviously a squash fanatic, I find it hard to believe a professional squash player has never played on after a suspicious looking double bounce, or manouvered his body deliberately to plead for a dubious let. I’ve seen it plenty at club level – even blatant and deliberate hitting of the ball at an opponent’s back to receive an automatic stroke.

    We can cite Peter Nicol, James Willstrop and many other squash players whose honesty is unquestionable, and squash does certainly seem to have a large proportion of thoroughly decent, humble blokes who embody good ethical practice, but cricket can also show us the equally reputable Adam Gilchrist, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara etc.

    Holding up Broad against Peter Nicol and drawing a simple good/bad conclusion is perhaps an over-simplification. If Nicol is stubborn, then it’s certainly a trait he and Broad share!

    • Hi Mike

      Many thanks for the response. It is clearly a dilemma for professional sportsmen when faced with such a decision.
      Not all squash players are angels, agreed, but I truly believe most guys (and girls) at or near the top of the world rankings understand the importance of the conduct they display on court.
      They are massive role models for the sport. I have seen plenty of examples where players have called their own shots down (or a double hit) in the absence of a call from a possibly unsighted referee at a crucial part of the match.
      I firmly believe that absolute honesty on court can give you a massive psychological advantage.
      I have also witnessed several unsavoury episodes where club players have copied unseemly behaviour displayed by leading professionals.
      On one occasion, at the PSA Super Series Finals at Broadgate Arena, one player deliberately drilled a shot into the legs of his opponent early on in the match. The following week, during a Kent Summer League match, I saw a senior club player (who had been a spectator at Broadgate) do the same to a junior opponent.
      Club players copy the pros in most sports.
      That’s why the leading professionals need to understand the responsibility they carry on their shoulders.
      Alan

  5. Regardless of the Broad incident, it has been good to see a fighting spirit in British Sport that, for far too long, was dampened by that old ethic :-“It’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part”. From an era of dumbed-down competition in State Schools, thanks to meddling politicians and their “Political Correctness”, there has emerged a substantial number of World Class Athletes, more a case of “in spite of” than “because of” the system in place for junior development. Without the National Lottery and Sport England, British Sport would still be simply making up the numbers in most sports. On the down-side, selection is tougher due to the depth of talent, brief spells of poor performance or injury can mean being dropped, and the lure of financial gain, support, recognition, and “glory” will drive some competitors to take unethical steps. Whether this involves drug-taking, cheating, or a corrupt selection process, they each contribute to a shabby situation in Sport. Walking on a knife-edge between Hero and Zero is not easy, but I feel that principles are sometimes abandoned in the drive for success. With Squash, despite the appalling financial rewards for success at World level, there are some players who will consistently use blocking tactics and double bounces to great advantage, too often it seems with the referees blessing ! Even in the juniors, the question of over-age players has long been a cancer in the Sport, continuing right at this moment in the World Under 19 Championships.

  6. If i know a shot is up or down then yes i stop and concede whether the referee has picked up on it or not, that’s the right thing to do. As a junior i used to stop if i thought there was a remote possibility my shot was down. i got taught to play on and leave that to the referee, which i stick by today. play the rally out and if there’s a query and i’m not sure either i will happily play the let.

  7. If a footballer is awarded a goal when everyone on the pitch except the officials sees that it hasn’t crossed the line, is there even the tiniest expectation that he will turn to the ref and say “that wasn’t over, change your decision”? And if he did, would the referee change his decision? I think no on both counts.

    Referees in football and cricket are professionals. They are paid well to do that job full time. In squash, this is not yet the case (although maybe one day it will be). I think this makes a difference to the expectation of the players – ie its my job to play cricket, its HIS job to decide whether I am out or not. Indeed, I have had one top ten squash player say exactly that to me when I mentioned his response to a dubious call in one of his matches to him – “I’m there to play, not to do the ref’s job for him” was the exact quote I think.

    I am finding it hard to condemn Broad for his actions, however little I liked to see it and however little I want to see such behaviour creeping into squash, purely because a full-time professional umpire has a job on the field and it is not the same as the players’. The players have a right to assume that they can let him do that job and not feel the need to do it for him.

    But yes, of course he should have walked.

  8. Re squash players sometimes not owning up to double bounces, the issue is not really comparable to the Broad incident. In the latter case, as in the Haddin incident, neither player was in any doubt that his bat had made contact with the ball.
    In squash, as anyone who has played singles knows, there are countless instances where there is genuine doubt in a player’s mind about whether his pickup is good or not. It typically happens when a player is at full stretch with his racquet scraping along the floor to get under the ball. In many cases, what looks like a dubious pickup is shown in replays to be good. The problem here is not human deceit but human error, so while it is true that one of the players is wrong, it is not always true that the player is deliberately cheating.

  9. @ Seshadri Of course they’re comparable. Batsmen often don’t know whether they’ve edged it, but Broad certainly knew. Squash players often don’t know when they’ve got to the ball before the second bounce, but sometimes they *know* they haven’t, and yet still play on. It’s all about pushing the boundaries of what’s fair, motivated by an unflappable will to win. There’s no difference. It goes on in all sports, even squash, and is very much up to the moral behavioural code of the individual. Squash is lucky to currently have a generally high proportion of “nice guys” at top level but I’m not convinced that as a sport we can hold ourselves up as a different breed of ethical evangelists.

    • @Mike Dale:
      Let’s agree to differ here. I think it’s impossible for a batsman to be unaware that he’s edged a ball–an umpire may be unable to notice/hear the contact, but the batsman always knows, as there is a tactile and/or auditory feedback that his hands and/or ears cannot fail to pickup.

      It’s not my case that squash players never cheat, but, rather, that what may look like cheating need not necessarily be so. A closer cricketing analogy is a low-level catch in the slips where, because the fielder may have taken his eye off the ball at the instant when he catches it, he may genuinely be unaware that his catch is just after the bounce.

  10. Good article. I was surprised there was a fair amount of support for the Broad thing, given cricket’s image as a gentleman’s game. My friends who are more into cricket than me tell me it’s because Australia have always done that to us, which, playground as it is, does need to considered I think. Still, I agree it was pretty shameful.

    I always call my own out-balls and doubles. I notice the difference when I play football, where people, including me to an extent, will take any inch. Nicking yards on free kicks, appealing 50/50 calls as if they’re 90/10s, niggling at people’s heels etc etc.

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