Squash needs to get its skates on to catch up with popular street sports
By Alan Thatcher, Squash Mad Editor
Moaning about skateboarding being put forward for the 2020 Olympics ahead of squash has been a popular theme on many squash blogs and social media outlets.
Instead of complaining, perhaps it’s time we took an honest look at some of the reasons behind the decision of the Tokyo 2020 Extra Events Committee to propose skateboarding alongside karate, baseball and softball, sport climbing and surfing.
Remember, this was the vote of the 2020 hosts, Japan, and clearly reflected some local cultural preferences (plus some lobbying muscle from commercial brands who will gain greater exposure for their products).
Japan has a fascinating youth culture that is often copied in the west. Think fashion, footwear, technology, music, gaming, and pulling all these strands together via social media networking.
I would hazard a guess that the companies designing and manufacturing next generation skateboards and scooters have a much bigger turnover than squash racket brands. This popularity is also reflected on a global scale in most western nations.
The next time you see a gang of kids hanging around your local shops with a bag of chips and skateboards at their feet, and their backsides hanging out of their jeans, what you are really witnessing is a lifestyle choice.
One where the kids make all the decisions for themselves. They don’t need a club committee (or parents) to tell them what to do. They hang out where and when they want. They certainly don’t need to book court time. And I’ve never seen them taking minutes.
Skateboarding is a popular part of youth culture all over the world, and that explains the decision why it has been put forward for the Olympics.
Competitive skateboarding has its own World Championship, with Nyjah Huston of the USA edging out Brazil’s Luan Oliveira to win the $100,000 first prize in front of packed crowds in South Africa. (Wouldn’t squash’s top players just love that kind of prize money?)
However, a group of skateboarders have sent a petition to the IOC aimed at keeping the sport OUT of the Olympics!
I kid you not. The very idea of skateboarding being part of what they view as a commercial, corporate event is total anathema to those who want to keep it where they feel it belongs, in the streets and skateparks.
Behind the scenes, more in-fighting is breaking out between rival federations who are putting themselves forward to manage any Olympic skateboarding events should the sport get the green light at next year’s IOC summit ahead of the Rio Olympics.
Sound familiar? Similar debates are taking place in squash as many professional players demand that the PSA have a bigger say in any future Olympic bid, or take it over altogether.
The World Squash Federation has managed and funded every bid so far. The WSF president, Nayarama Ramachandran, is fighting fires in India, where several rival sports are trying to oust him from his role as president of the Indian Olympic Association.
He has already been forced to hand back an award from the government following a mutiny from the Indian squash community. Their complaints were upheld by the High Court in Delhi, who ruled that he had lied about financial donations he had claimed to have made to squash. They described his actions as “an insult to the sport” according to an article published by Inside The Games website.
For future Olympic bids, squash certainly needs to get its act together and learn from the events that led to this latest bitter disappointment.
This rejection had nothing to do with the quality of the “product” delivered by the game’s leading players, and everything to do with the commercial impact of the rival bids as measured against our own.
The smiling face of IOC president Thomas Bach, pictured with squash players during the recent Pan-Am Games in Toronto, now looks more like a Halloween mask. For squash, the Olympic saga is a relentless horror story.
After the vote went against squash in Buenos Aires four years earlier, I invited a friend who works in television to address the WSF and tell them something about the likes and dislikes of TV commissioning editors. These are the people who choose what programmes fill our TV schedules.
Squash, he told them, is regarded as too middle-class and middle-aged.
At the very highest level, we all know that’s not true. Our top players are phenomenal athletes who thoroughly deserve a chance to appear in the Olympics.
But, if that’s the perceived viewpoint of the decision-makers in the media industry, then clearly we have some work to do to change that image.
And, until we do, do not be surprised that sports like skateboarding sprint ahead of squash in the race for a place in the Olympics.
The traditional WSF mantra, that squash will be “small and cheap to run” has clearly not worked. In fact, it has probably done more harm than good.