Alan’s Blog: Why squash lost out to skateboarding for Tokyo Olympics

 

Packed crowds at skateboard's World Championship in South Africa
Packed crowds at skateboarding’s World Championship in South Africa

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.

roller skates copyRemember, 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. 

unnamedBehind 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. 

Thomas Bach's smile "looks like a halloween horror mask"
Thomas Bach’s smile “looks like a Halloween horror mask”

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. 

 

 

 

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.

5 Comments

  1. Our future lies in initiatives like Street Squash in Harlem and Newark and other clubs organised in NUSEA (http://www.nationalurbansquash.org).
    We have to start from the kids perspective. We have to think in completely new ways when it comes to how we communicate our sport. Let that ambition to be part of the Olympics be second to grow our sport in the right way. I think we have amazing opportunities if we open up to what our sport could do in our society. I think our sport is unique with its mix of ball, raquet and contact sport. It’s tough and it’s intense. It’s fairly easy to get going with it.
    Please let’s listen to the NUSEA clubs and what they’ve done. They can teach us a lesson. A way to grow squash in a way that is way beyond our imagination…..I think.
    Naive? Well perhaps but I think I’m right.
    I used to think that our sport is not for the great numbers of spectators – I still do IN A WAY – BUT it’s also an amazing sport to stream and watch on computers/ipads/tv sets or whatever.
    Could the future lie more in trying to think Spotify or the ever growing e-sports development. Check this one out – http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/14/5898025/dota-2-the-international-esports.
    We need to think future. We need to forget focusing on the Olympics. If we become attractive enough they will come begging us to participate – if they pay enough we might say yes. 🙂

  2. If I am not welcomed someplace I want to be I guess eventually I will go to a place where I am welcomed and love to be — the squash court as opposed to the court of public or ioc opinion. Anyways, Olympics won’t do all that much for squash. Take a look at fencing, my other favorite sport. The tv play time is minimal. Tennis did not become what squash wants to be by being in the Olympics. Follow the tennis roadmap?

  3. It’s totally unsurprising to me the skateboarding was chosen in the first place. It may not be as much a “sport” as squash or even the other contenders, but when you look at popularity and the commercial aspect, it wins hands down.

    Switch on the cable TV in Asia anytime, and you are 100x more likely to catch the X-Games on instead of squash. It’s interesting enough to be watched even by someone who has never skateboarded. It’s entertaining.

    Skateboarding is a lifestyle, it’s a culture, it sells. Brands like DC Shoes and Thrasher are worn as a fashion statement. So much so that these brands are being commercially imitated.

    There are definitely more people who knows of Tony Hawk than Ramy, Nick, Jahangir, Greg, Jonathan Power and Peter Nicol combined. PSA might have a Wii game now under its belt. But Tony Hawk has more than a dozen under his name.

    So if commercialisation and TV is a big requisite to get into the Olympics, chances for squash to be in will only be realistic if we are up against similar sports in those areas. Because come 2024 and if Texas Hold Em poker ever decides to come into the picture, we will once again be vanished. We will be triple bagel-ed.

  4. Is this really why the IOC aren’t interested? Because squash has its collective backsides tucked INSIDE our trousers? The situation is even more dispiriting if so.
    Skateboarding is undoubtedly marketable, the brands associated with it are ‘cool’, advertisers will therefore be interested and that, I suspect is what got them the vote, even though squash – for reasons we’re all now exhausted by repeating – deserves it infinitely more.
    The fact that skateboarding has only in the last two weeks formed a British governing body, and that apparently many of their fraternity don’t even WANT to be in the Olympics exposes the whole sordid process to even more ridicule.

  5. Next olympics will no doubt have pickleball as the new sexy sport! But really who cares…I’d rather the international squash federation cease to waste its money trying for a bid for the olympics and hire some genius marketing people. Squash, one of the best sports on the planet, might always be a boutique sport. We just need to keep growing the game for young people so they get hooked. Young can be people in high school, university, or in their 30’s. Outdoor courts in scattered communities, community centres are areas of growth potential, that will help with exposure. Olympics…lets not lose sleep over it.

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