Coping with Covid and building a sunny future for squash as an outdoor sport
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Just as squash players were enjoying their return to court, along came a new wave of guidelines and restrictions that threaten the game’s existence in many parts of the world.
Squash continues to face an uncertain future because of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the latest round of measures are in response to a continued rise in infection rates in many nations.
France enters a new period of total lockdown today until December 1, and parts of the UK are facing constantly evolving restrictions that could make life more difficult for squash clubs.
A total lockdown across England is expected to be announced next week as today’s BBC News reported that infection figures are above the government health advisors’ “worst case” modelling scenarios.
In North America, many city centres are like ghost towns as people continue to work from home or businesses fold. Sport is being hit hard. Two major fitness chains have filed for bankruptcy, which will result in the loss of more than 200 squash courts. Several independent squash and fitness clubs in the USA and Canada have already gone to the wall, and others are not planning to reopen until the spring at the earliest.
Here in the UK, there were signs that the winter weather was forcing players back indoors.
With squash courts closed, players took to outdoor pursuits during the summer, with many trying out padel and pickleball for the first time as well as traditional pursuits like tennis and golf.
Now that the late summer sizzle has been replaced by endless drizzle, players want to get back indoors into familiar territory. On to a squash court.
Many clubs have reported an upturn in activity thanks to the drop in temperature, although some are still reporting activity levels way below pre-lockdown levels as various regions of the UK are now facing further Covid restrictions that will affect indoor sport.
Competitive squash has already taken a huge battering, with the England Squash Premier League (PSL) the latest event to be cancelled for this season.
PSA promoters are in a state of permanent limbo as we wait for advice on whether spectators will be allowed into clubs or venues for tournaments large or small.
Securing sponsorship becomes increasingly difficult as companies furlough staff, announce redundancies, downsize or cease operations altogether. With such matters on their mind, sponsoring sport may not be top of their priorities right now.
Let me give you one example. Breweries who have been forced to pour millions of pounds’ worth of beer down the drain in recent months might not be so forthcoming in supporting future events. Especially with hospitality industry venues, such as bars and restaurants, unsure from one week to the next if they are able to remain in business.
The PSA World Tour resumed with a tournament in Manchester played behind closed doors, and this was followed by two open-air events in Egypt, where spectators were allowed to watch the action at the Mall of Arabia and the Great Pyramids.
The spectacular images from the Pyramids once again provided a strong reminder of the glorious spectacle that top-class squash generates when the glass court is set up in such iconic locations.
Sadly, I have not seen any of the amazing images from Giza published in the mainstream media.
Using open-air courts to stage major tournaments has helped to develop ongoing conversations about the wider need for outdoor squash courts.
The health risks posed by traditional indoor courts, with poor ventilation and linked by narrow corridors, have seen squash’s reputation swing from being one of the best sports in the world for fitness to being listed as a “high-risk activity”.
Many entrepreneurial souls are looking closely at the concept of open-air courts and sharing ideas and engineering solutions to deal with issues caused by fluctuating weather conditions.
Squash Para Todos, in El Salvador, is ahead of the game and creating a new complex filled with seven open-air squash courts.
I also noticed a padel court in the graphics featured in the movie (above).
Here in the UK, all major padel tournaments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, but several new courts have been built, many of them at local squash clubs.
One padel club in London chose to relocate following complaints about the noise from the snooty neighbours in Fulham!
Funny, that, because the courts were just a few hundred yards from Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham FC which is undergoing a major redevelopment programme with a new Riverside Stand sticking out over the Thames.
Perhaps, with Fulham propping up the Premier League table, there’s not so much noise coming from Cottagers fans these days.
Here’s the list of new padel facilities:
Stratford Padel Club – Added two more courts to their existing three court indoor venue, resulting in a five-court facility (largest padel venue in Great Britain to date).
Hazelwood Sports Club – Added one more court to their existing facility, resulting in two outdoor padel courts.
Market Harborough Cricket and Squash Club – Added two outdoor courts.
Winchester Racquets and Fitness – Added two outdoor courts.
Chichester Racquets and Fitness Club – Added two outdoor courts.
Windsor Penarth Lawn Tennis Club – Added one outdoor court (the first padel court in Wales)
Ashtead Squash and Tennis Club – Added one outdoor court.
Rocks Lane Padel Club, London – Added three outdoor courts (relocated from Bishops Park, Fulham).
Jet Padel Club, Thame Oxon – Added one outdoor court.
East Glos Club, Cheltenham – Adding three outdoor courts in November 2020.
While on the subject of football, once I saw that non-league clubs in England had been bailed out with a £10m government grant to enable them to start the season, I wrote to England Squash and the PSA suggesting a request should be made to the government for similar funding to enable professional squash events to continue.
As well as the stunning beauty of the venue at the Pyramids, Mostafa Asal created some extra talking points when he ripped off his shirt to celebrate his incredible quarter-final victory over Paul Coll.
Asal’s victory was a phenomenal performance that showed he has the physical attributes to add to his superb rackets skills, winning a match lasting 103 minutes 12-10 in the fifth.
There were many conversations on social media about his bare-chested celebrations, and some suggested he should have been penalised with a penalty stroke for removing an item of clothing while the match was still live as Coll’s appeal to the referee was being debated.
Most fans loved the display of passion. But I have yet to hear the Test and Trace results from those who were in the firing line when his shirt flew over the back wall and into the crowd.
Sadly, world junior champion Asal and fellow Egyptian Zahed Salem have withdrawn from the upcoming Qatar Classic.
Both players are currently self-isolating after close family members have tested positive for COVID-19. Neither player has received a positive test at this time. I blame the shirt.
JOIN THE DEBATE: Feel free to comment below on any of the topics raised in the article.
Pictures courtesy of PSA and Squash Para Todos