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Saturday, October 23, 2021

British Junior Open misfortune leads to unseemly outbursts from adults

Alex Wan
Alex Wan is an avid squash lover who writes, photographs, plays and coaches when he is not making a living with his Finance degree.

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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

An injured Jess with her arm in a sling
An injured Jess with her arm in a sling

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

 

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4 Comments

  1. I can’t see how it makes sense to award the match to the losing player when the collision was unintentional. As you say, neither of the players would want that. Both girls were going for broke (no pun intended) in that rally and accidents happen.

    • I agree that the decision seems harsh in this situation but players, as I talk about below, have dug themselves out of much deeper holes before. So I think that the decision is more sensible than you’ve acknowledged because the possibility of a comeback needs to be taken into account.

      On the other hand, I agree that the rule does seem very arbitrary in the sense that the injured player could be 10-0 down in the third, after having failed to score a single point in the previous two games. Yet, under this rule, she would be awarded the match.

      And language of Rule 14.3.3.1 is very clear. If the injured player can’t continue after 15 minutes, the match is awarded to the injured player. There are no exceptions or mitigating factors. And all of the guidance for referees has now been abandoned.

      I don’t see any alternative except to just toss the rules in the trash, which I think sets the stage for even more unfair decisions in the future.

  2. The collision was absolutely intentional… It’s completely clear that the Egyptian girl deliberately ran into the back of her opponent… And even worse, in the video you can see where she not just runs into her, she pushes her forward with her arms.

    Not saying that the Egyptian wanted to injure her opponent, but the collision was absolutely intentional… And the fact that her opponent got injured is a result of a deliberate action on the part of the Egyptian… As a result, she is responsible for deliberately causing an action that resulted in her opponent not being able to continue, which should mean the Egyptian must suffer lose of the match.

    Why should a player be rewarded for deliberately doing something that caused their opponent not to continue play?

    There is no way that the referee cannot take that position, as doing so would open up the door for other players to attempt the same thing (deliberately colliding with an opponent with no thought of being penalized for doing so).

    It is crucial to developing a positive culture for the game of squash, that young players learn that self control, and responsibility for your actions, is a requirement.

    I’m sure that this young player will be very careful (or, at least I hope so, but one can’t be too sure given the actions of her adult supporters) in her play from this point forward.

  3. I appreciate that the outcome seems unjust in certain ways, especially given the seeming unlikelihood that Keng would come back after three match balls down to take the match against a girl who was apparently the better player on the day and was seeded much higher. But would the outcome of forfeiting the match in favor of the player who caused the injury be any less harsh?

    There are two points that I think are worth making:

    First, because this was an injury caused solely by the incoming striker (Youssef),the referee’s decision to award the match to the injured player (Keng) was unquestionably required by Rule 14.3.3.1 which provides: “Where the injury is accidentally caused by the opponent, Rule 15 (Conduct) must be applied. The injured player is permitted 15 minutes to recover. If the player is then unable to resume play, the match is awarded to the injured player”.

    Second, squash is a sport with a history of upsets and amazing comebacks and it seems that the rules committee tried to acknowledge that history. It is very appropriate that Tarek Momen is weighing in on this controversy with a well thought out commentary since he is a living example of a ridiculously great comeback, having once saved something like ten match balls or more and ultimately pulled off a great upset against Mohamed Elshorbagy.

    Similarly, in the 2007 British Open final, Rachael Grinham played some amazing squash to come back from what looked like certain defeat to beat Nicol David in what I think was one of the most exciting squash matches that I have ever watched.

    The question is whether the current rule can create unfair outcomes, as seems to be the case here where the higher ranked, higher seeded and seemingly dominant girl is denied a victory. On the other hand, there needs to be a way to acknowledge that the injured player is being denied the possibility of a comeback.

    I don’t have any idea about how to improve the balance between the two conflicting principles but I think that’s what we need to focus on because the rules very clearly dictated this harsh and clearly unfair outcome.

    Is there a way to factor in the scoreline or the player’s rankings so that the player who is dominating the match isn’t excessively penalized, while at the same time acknowledging that the reason why the injured player can’t continue is the fault of the other player?

    I would be interested in hearing from people with ideas about how to reconcile these competing values. I would especially appreciate hearing from anyone who is or was involved in formulating the rules.

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