The story of an under-13 girls’ final, and some unseemly adult responses to an ugly finale
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
The recently concluded British Junior Open saw all top seeds win in their age categories, save for one. The girls under-13 title was won by joint third-fourth seed Jessica Keng of Malaysia. Sadly, she will not be remembered as the girl who upset the odds, but instead, the girl who was awarded the title when facing two match balls in the fourth game.
By now, many will have heard about and probably seen the video on what happened. At 7-10 down in the fourth, Jessica had twice scrambled onto the ground to retrieve shots from her top seeded Egyptian opponent Nouran Youssef. Then, she played a winning drop shot, was knocked over from the back, and crashed onto the ground.
Nouran Youssef looked at the referee, hoping to receive a let. But after realising her opponent was still down, she went to check on her. Moments later, the Malaysian coach Andrew Cross rushed in to tend to Jessica and led her out of court.
A few minutes later, the referees controversially awarded the match to Jessica, citing “Not deliberate, but caused by the opponent, and Jessica unable to continue so match awarded.”
Apart from Nouran, who was still in court, the Egyptian camp erupted with displeasure. A few were seen shouting at the referees over the decision. Understandably, they were upset. But there is certainly no excuse for such unruly behaviour by the adults, especially in front of a majority junior audience, at a junior event.
From the YouTube video, the term “three match balls” were audible a couple of times. It is very painful to be forfeited a match when in such a commanding lead, but I believe, the decision was made with no regard to the scoreline.
Unfortunately, there is no clear ruling on incidents of such nature. When questioned if there was one, World Squash Federation Chief Executive Officer Andrew Shelley replied, “It would depend on circumstances and responsibility for the referee to decide as happens where necessary upon occasion.”
He also added that these incidents are rare but not unique, and cited to a similar incident at the WSA 2014 City Of Perth Open, where a player was awarded the match after she was unable to continue due to being hit in the eye by the ball in between rallies.
What has happened is an extremely regrettable event. It has done no good to either Jessica Keng or Nouran Yousself, a pair of extremely talented 12-year-old girls, who were playing arguably the biggest match of their lives.
The Malaysian might have a winner’s medal at home, but deep down, I believe she does not believe she deserved it. For Nouran, it will take some time to get over what has happened – the fact that she was “robbed” of her title.
The whole incident has kicked off fiery discussions on social media, some which has led to individuals making very derogatory comments. One particular stand-out theme seem to be that the incident is a representation of Egyptian squash. What’s even more shocking, some of them came from professional players.
One of the most sensible comments I have across so far is from world number seven Tarek Momen, who said, “It’s a generalisation nobody would accept. There’s always the good and the bad in all walks of life, not just squash.”
It is absurd for anyone to make such a negative generalisation given the many great and fair players we have seen from the nation. In this day and age, where the world is fighting against much bigger real life issues such as racism and religious extremism, discriminating against a major nation in our great sport in such a manner is clearly uncalled for.
What makes it worse is that we seem to have capitalised on an incident involving two 12-year-old girls to vent our anger on one another on social media. Perhaps it is time we took a step back and take pity on the poor young girls’ misfortunes, rather than capitalising on it.
For the record, I certainly do not believe Jessica would fake an injury to win the title in this way. Neither do I believe that Nouran meant to hurt Jessica in any way. It was simply a case of an over-enthusiastic girl who made a misjudged call that did not end up well.
Jessica and Nouran, you are both champions in my eyes and I certainly hope that you will put behind what has happened and continue to do well in your squash careers.
Picture by LAWRENCE KWAN