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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

England Squash suffer substantial funding cut

Lee Horton
Lee Hortonhttps://squashmad.com
Former Sun, Mirror, People and Sunday Express sports executive. Knows a bit about newspapers and the art of talking a good game. Brighter than some but a way to go to match others.

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Happier times: England celebrated success at the Men’s World Team Championship in June 2013

England Squash suffer budget slash and are threatened with further action unless new objectives are met
By Lee Horton – Squash Mad Reporter

England Squash has been hit with a £355,000 funding cut after failing to halt the decline in people playing the sport.

Sport England announced the 20 per cent reduction in financial support and also issued a three-point action plan with the veiled threat of further cuts if things do not improve.They demand:

  1. A rapid and immediate improvement in leadership.
  2. A complete review of the ESR’s current participation strategy and current development staffing structure by October 1st.
  3. The demonstration of a sound understanding of the market and consumer trends within the sport with particular focus of the player motivations.

Squash was one of six sports, including basketball, tennis, swimming ,table tennis and fencing, singled out by Sport England’s demands for improvement.

The latest Active People Survey, which measures participation levels based on the number of people taking part in an activity for at least 30 minutes a week, revealed that 240,700 over-16′s played squash at least once a week.

That figure showed a decrease on last year’s total of 257,100 representing a 0.55 drop but still showed the sport holding it’s own despite the economic downturn, closure of courts and the disappointment of missing out on Olympic Games inclusion.

The decline in playing numbers comes at a time when England are enjoying unparalleled success at the top level.

Yorkshire’s Nick Matthew is the current World champion and world number one ranked player, James Willstrop, Peter Barker and Daryl Selby are in the world’s top 10 while women players Laura Massaro (2), Alison Waters (4) and Jenny Duncalf (9) are among the world’s elite.

In their statement issued on Thursday, Sport England said:

“In December 2012, Sport England committed £13.5m for the period 2013-17, this included £4.98, to the ESR four-year talent and elite programmes and a one-year investment of £2.5m into its participation programmes.

“While the ESR’s talent and elite programmes remain at a notably high standard, there has been limited progress on the participation agenda and the number of people playing the game continues to decline.

“England Sport is therefore investing £3.37m in ESR over the next year, including £1,25m for it’s talent and elite programmes.This includes a 20 per cent reduction (£355,000) for participation programmes to reflect its poor performance in increasing its number of regular players.”

Peter Goldson, Chair of England Squash & Racketball, said: “We’d like to thank Sport England for its ongoing support. ESR is committed to driving participation and will continue to work with key partners, squash facility owners, managers and operators to grow the sport at a grassroots level.

“By listening to our players and potential players, ESR will focus on working smarter to retain and increase the number of people playing squash and racketball. Our commitment to lead, influence, enable and support more people to play more often will be our immediate priority.”

Sport England, which invests £250m a year in grassroots sport, has given a cautious welcome to attempts by the Lawn Tennis Association to turn around a decline in the number of people playing the game.

A year ago it placed the LTA in “special measures” and said its funding could be cut unless it changed its outlook and started to address an alarming decline in participation figures.

Andy MurrayDespite Andy Murray (pictured right) becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, the latest figures showed a decline from 423,400 to 406,000 in the past year. Since 2005, the number of people playing once a week has slumped from 457,200.

But Sport England announced on Thursday that it had been largely convinced by the change in outlook at the LTA that coincided with the departure of Roger Draper and the arrival this month of the new Chief Executive Michael Downey from Tennis Canada.

But to continue to receive its full £17.3m four-year funding allocation, it will have to start delivering quantifiable results. Sport England said it had already docked £114,000 to reinvest into a local authority pilot project aimed at getting more 16 to 25-year-olds playing the sport.

Football and cricket were warned that their governing bodies are likely to be the next to lose millions in public money after Sport England got “tough” on the alarming decline in participation since the Olympics.

New sports minister Helen Grant also vowed to clamp down on those who saw cash they received from the exchequer and National Lottery as a “gravy train” following the latest round of funding decisions by the grassroots watchdog.

Football, cricket, golf and netball all suffered slumps in participation in Sport England’s most recent Active People Survey and can expect to pay the price in the near future.

The Football Association and England and Wales Cricket Board could therefore lose some of the respective £30 million and £20 million of grassroots funding each received for the current four-year cycle.

Grant said: “Sports governing bodies are getting in the region of about £500 million to finance their grassroots plans and to engage with our young people.

“But it’s no gravy train and if the sports’ governing bodies can’t deliver then it’s going to be redirected elsewhere to those who can – it’s as simple as that.

“If sports are not performing then they need to look out. We cannot reward failure with public money.”

Sport England Director of Sport Phil Smith added of football: “If football fails then we fail because of the scale of the numbers that play the game.”


Sports Minister Grant is attending a squash event in her Maidstone constituency tomorrow (Saturday). She will be guest of honour at The Mote Squash Club, host venue for the Select Gaming Kent Open.

Main picture by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite); Andy Murray picture by Beth Wilson

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  1. Half a percent drop in adult players in the current economic climate and a junior scene that is absolutely thriving in many areas of the country.
    Seems a bit harsh on England Squash!?

    • Totally agree, Richard. Particularly with the terrific success of Nick, James, Laura and Alison and the other elite players. Four men and three women in the world’s top 10.
      Unparalleled in any other sport.

  2. In response to the twitter chatter that has followed the Sport England funding cut, I would like to tell you a little about the junior squash structure at Northern squash club in Newcastle and what part funding has played in its growth.
    Northern squash club has 4 courts and is located in the club house of Northern Rugby football club.
    We have had a good junior section for the 17 years that I`ve been a member but then 8 years ago we decided to implement a schools outreach programme. We enlisted the help of three organisations to make this happen:
    1. The ( now disbanded ) schools sports partnership, who provided us with links into our nine local firsts schools and £270 in each of our first two years to fund a coach to deliver a hand / eye co ordination session with a squash emphasis to their year threes in the first half term of the school year.
    2. Our England Squash regional manager, who supplied us with a portable rebound wall for those schools that didn`t have blank wall space.
    3. Unsquashable and subsequently Dunlop , who have supplied us with free or discounted rackets, balls and goggles.

    For the last eight years our coaches have delivered these sessions and then invited the best 50 prospects to two festivals at our club. These able and enthusiatic 7/8 year olds have then joined our squads.
    This initiative has continued for the last 8 years and as a result we now have :

    1. 13 squads containing 110 boys and 40 girls, nearly all of whom started as a result of attended one of our festivals.
    2. All our squads are run at off peak times – weekends or before 5.30pm on weekdays.
    3. In addition to our 150 junior squad members, we have 50 on the waiting list and they all live within 2 miles of the club.

    In the last 3/4 years the first intake from our schools programme have reached the local Gosforth Academy and as a consequence our coaches help the school manage it`s teams in the national schools squash competition. In the last two seasons seven out of the possible eight Academy teams have reached the national finals of their competition, with the boys under 15 team winning their competition in 2012, the boys under 19 team runners up and the girls under 15 team winning their competition in 2013.

    Many of our juniors just do their one squad a week but we do have some excellence too – we have 60 plus juniors on the national ranking lists, we have 20 boys and 10 girls representing the club in the adult local leagues, many of our juniors have represented the county / region in the last 5 years and one boy has played for England.
    Most pleasingly eight sixth formers are being funded through their coaching badges and as part of this process assisting with squads and mentoring young juniors.
    Our junior programme is well established now and as well as filling off peak court useage it also contributes thousands of pounds to the clubs finances, however , I firmly believe that none of this would have been possible without that initial help from the School sports partnership , Dunlop / Unsquashable and our England Squash regional manager.

    I should point out that hardly any of our juniors come from ” squash playing ” families due to our schools programme, indeed a lot of parents have joined in order to play with their kids and some of them have since joined our club leagues and even made their way into our 6 men`s teams. Our adult section has grown alongside our junior section to the point that we have had to close our membership for the last two seasons!
    Within our club the enthusiam and dedication has been provided by our coaches, parents, volunteers and committee members but that would mean nothing without the direction, guidance and initial funding from those original supporters.
    I hope that the funding cuts don`t mean that help is no longer there for clubs that want to improve their junior section – if coaches / junior organisers want to pick my brains about our junior set up then please feel free to contact me via facebook or twitter.

  3. It’s good to hear that grass roots level squash is being supported financially in parts of the country. I have to say that this is not consistent in all parts as where I live (and coach) there is no support offered to help junior development. We see most support shifting over to racketball and have also lost many senior players to that sport also.

    I have for sometime questioned the wisdom of having two distinct sports represented by the same body and the resultant confusion over which sport is promoted (it seems to be dictated by the preference of the local ESR representative). Squash needs its own governing body as it needs that focus to ensure consistent support to juniors and national players alike.

    So yes I agree with Sport England, a shake up and new leadership is required along with the return of England Squash as our governing body.

  4. It has often been said that if ESR had been a private company it would have gone into bankruptcy, and has only survived with England Sport funding for many years. The poor effort to acquire commercial sponsorship has consistently added to the woes. Whilst we may glory in the fact that England has a World class group of top players, it should be noted that, I believe, not one of them is being coached by, or can give much credit to, a coach employed by ESR other than on a consultancy basis. David Pearson, Jonah Barrington, Malcolm Willstrop, Phil Whitlock, Tim Vail, Ben Ford, and a few other independent coaches, are producing National, European, and World Junior and Senior Champions. If it was my own money I would disband the entire National coaching programme, and engage these independent coaches for a negotiated fee at their respective home bases with regular weekend squads. Costly salaries and expenses would be eliminated, and put to better use on true development for existing and emerging players on a more localised basis. I am sure that the players would appreciate the freedom to choose where they are coached. With the issue of the Selection Process for national representation, ranking and performance at specified events would leave selection beyond doubt, as is the format in Egypt. Regional competitions, followed by national play-offs, would ensure that the current cream will be at the top. I feel sure that my suggested plan would reduce the cost of participation substantially for players, and would free-up a very large amount of the remaining Sport England funding to be put to better use. It should not be forgotten that no person, or organisation, is bigger than the Sport.

  5. Further to my earlier post, it is only a matter of time before our elite group of top World players retire from the circuit. Like Nick Matthew, I’m sure that their own Academies will follow . Who better to take players to the highest level, having competed in the dynamic form of the game that has taken the sport by storm over the last five years ? Food for thought !

  6. This is certainly a challenging situation, not just for ESR but also potentially for the worldwide squash community. England is a mature squash nation, I wonder if countries such as Australia and New Zealand are experiencing similar issues? If they are, perhaps the squash world needs to sit up and take notice as a similar trend may be just round the corner for those nations slightly less developed than the likes of England.

    I think we should consider both sides of this particular coin, whilst funding has currently been reduced to a few NGB’s in England; sports in England are major beneficiaries of funding that other nations eye enviously. In my view one of the major success factors for many sports in Great Britain are the tough but realistic targets set by the funding bodies, for both elite and participation activities. Participation levels in England have increased overall and major international success has now been achieved by many sport at both Olympic and World Championship levels…but this debate is purely about participation…..let’s not get distracted by the successes at an elite level, for this issue it simply doesn’t matter!

    For those who want to understand the participation measures used have a look at the Active People Survey on Sport England’s website…….and by the way, sports receive discreet pots of funding for different areas of their business, you can’t take performance funding and use it for participation activities or vice versa.

  7. “This debate is purely about participation”??? I don’t think so !! Sport England has slashed the funding primarily because of poor leadership performance, which means poor use of Sport England money.To be followed immediately by the announcement that Nick Rider is leaving ESR leaves me in no doubt about where the buck stopped. I personally find his words of self-praise, pride, and achievement totally at odds with Sport England’s view of the situation. The reality is that ESR has a bigger problem now, and only the right people can clear it up, people who can make that vital difference, are good for the Sport, and can satisfy Sport England in such a manner that funding is restored and put to good use. Localised development is generally weak, expensive, and rarely that productive. As an example, I went along to the World Deaf Championships at Lee on Solent a couple of years ago, there were only 14 entrants ! ESR were heavily involved, but, despite it being a noble cause, the response in entry numbers made it a poor investment of funds. I felt sorry for those who did travel for the event, socially it was great, but not much more as a World Event ! Spending a budget wisely is what running an organisation is all about, and Sport England has left their opinion in no doubt.

  8. With reference to the quoted deadline of October 1st, have the changes and improvements been made public? Addressing and adhering to these demands are essential to the recovery and improvement of funding from Sport England.

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