Mixed reactions as Aussie juniors miss pinnacle event for first time in history
There have been mixed reactions over Squash Mad’s recent revelation that Australia will not participate in the 2014 World Junior Championships for the first time in the event’s history.
Although entries closed in November last year, the decision had not been publicly announced by Squash Australia through their website or communications, and the news came as a shock to many in the squash community.
“I’m appalled at this decision, which appears to have been made somewhat secretly by a group of people and not revealed to a greater audience until after the entries closed,” said passionate junior squash supporter and former CEO of Queensland Squash, Kim Schramm.
“I particularly feel for those juniors who today were leading contenders to represent Australia at the 2014 World Championships. It is a very sad decision,” he added.
Squash Australia cited a lack of international competitiveness as one of the reasons for not sending a team, and outlined a new program aimed at building the top levels of junior competition through training and competition closer to home, as well as the expansion of the Australian Junior Squash Tour.
CEO, Gary O’Donnell (right), said that Squash Australia takes it responsibilities to world squash very seriously, and the decision not to submit a team wasn’t easy for the coaches, management or the Board.
“Such decisions weigh heavily, and are neither flippant or taken lightly. However, just because a decision is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken,” he said.
“I think it’s a disgraceful decision,” said NSW Squash Board Member, club manager, and Sydney Squash Circuit Director, Jason McLauchlan.
“I played the world juniors in 1988 and have lifelong friends from that trip. Not only that, it gave me an appreciation for squash which has kept me heavily involved in squash as a career and working to promote squash to this day. No reason is good enough in my opinion.”
The 18-year-old Rhys Dowling, ranked number two in Australia and world number 13 in under-19 boys, would almost certainly have been on the team for this year’s World Junior Championships, and says he thinks the decision is unfair on the Aussie juniors.
“The current top Australian juniors have worked hard for many years to get to the top, and part of the journey was to eventually represent Australia. If Australia is to have future champions they need the exposure,” he said.
“I understand that the last World Junior team to go away didn’t achieve as much as Australia would have liked, but they gave every effort to do the absolute best they could and they are to be commended on that effort. They also didn’t have the best preparation, and a couple of sessions just prior proved to be inadequate.”
Despite his disappointment, Dowling said he does understand some of the basis for the decision by Squash Australia.
“The fact remains that our position in the world of junior squash is not the best, and that squash development and preparation must increase so that the teams we do send away have the best possible chance of success. I think this is why Australia has changed its stance, but it has resulted in it being a bit unfair to the current top juniors,” Dowling said.
“I would like Squash Australia not to forget the top juniors who have worked through the ranks to achieve. I’m obviously not happy that I couldn’t end my junior career with more representations for Australia at that level, but it is now up to me to prove myself in the senior rankings,” he added.
O’Donnell, said he hopes the new program and strategies will build the level of junior talent in Australia and strengthen international competitiveness, in turn motivating players towards longer term squash careers.
“The reality is that the world of squash has moved ahead in terms of standard of players across the world. There are more countries producing high-level players than in the past. If you compare the men’s and women’s tours for the number of countries represented in the top 50, there are some 20 or so these days. In the 90s there were ten,” he said.
“In recent World Junior Championships, finishing in the top eight hasn’t happened, and the experience for the athletes in building them up towards a long-term career, both individually and to contribute to Australian teams in the future, has fallen short. If they see themselves as distant from the required standard, then it has not been a successful program.
“While the junior result has importance in itself, it is the long-term that we are also looking at, so that when players make the inevitable choices of playing high level squash as a career they have seen enough to be able to take the leap of faith to do so,” O’Donnell added.
Queensland Squash’s former CEO, Kim Schramm (left), feels that bypassing the World Championships is not a good strategy, and the emphasis on kids continuing with a career in squash after juniors is an unwarranted expectation.
“If Australia got the strategy right and our kids became competitive again, they would automatically consider a career in squash.
“Leaving the main arena to play lesser players and build a false feeling of how good a player is an extremely poor strategy. The deflation when they meet real talent is even more damaging,” he said.
“Sadly Australia is falling further behind the rest of the world and decisions like this are not helping,” he added.
McLauchlan says he has seen the disappointment in juniors throughout the Sydney Squash Circuit, especially during the Bondi Open a few weeks ago in which many juniors competed.
“I just feel sad for the kids that were good enough to represent their country and that has been taken away from them. That can never be given back,” he concluded.
Twenty-four nations will compete in the 2014 World Junior Championships, including Argentina, Botswana, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, England. Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Namibia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, USA, Zimbabwe.
Picture of Rhys Dowling courtesy of SquashSite