Australian juniors to miss 2014 World Championships in Namibia
There will be a glaring absence at the World Junior Squash Championships this year, with former champion nation Australia opting out of sending a team to the international pinnacle event of junior squash.
The World Squash Federation has confirmed that for the first time in history Australia has NOT entered a team, despite being considered one of the world’s most established squash nations.
The event is managed by the World Squash Federation and includes the World Junior Men’s and Women’s Individual Championships, in addition to the World Junior Men’s Team Championship. The action takes place in the Namibian capital of Windhoek from August 10-21.
Plenty of emotion surrounds the decision, with disappointment from Australian parents and junior players who won’t have the chance to compete on the international stage. However, Squash Australia has defended the move as a strategic decision aimed at developing and enhancing the future of squash in Australia.
Squash Australia’s CEO, Gary O’Donnell, says that the aim is to focus on building a program where Australian players are competitive in the top levels of junior competition, to motivate them towards a long-term career in squash and develop players for future Australian teams.
“Australia historically has had reasonable success at the World Juniors. While there has been a limited number of individual World Junior Champions – four in the 80s and one in the 90s – the Junior Teams event has been the feature,” said O’Donnell (pictured right).
“Finishing well – in the top four teams – with good numbers of players playing at a good standard is a great launching point for Australian athletes in the long term.
“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.
“We have some good talent but need to build depth, to get the team result to a top eight, or eventually a top four level. 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,” he added.
Seventeen year old Aidan Parkes (pictured right), who joined the Professional Squash Association in 2012, and recently self-funded a trip to compete in the Canadian Junior Open and the US Junior Open, believes it is a very disappointing decision.
“I think our potential team would be strong, if not stronger than previous years,” declared Parkes. “I can see Squash Australia’s point of view, but it doesn’t seem fair or logical to simply skip an age group.”
Parkes would have been a very likely selection for the Australian Junior Team given his current ranking of number three in Australia’s under 19 boys and world ranking of 257, the highest in the junior pool.
However, 27 year old professional player Donna Urquhart, a former Australian junior champion and currently ranked number two in Australia, says the move is understandable.
“When I was playing as a junior, we were constantly pushing each other with the goal of being on the world stage.” recalled the world number 22.
“When I went to the British Junior Open at 16 years old I fundraised the money to get there myself, and it made me really appreciate how hard it was to get there. I wanted to make sure that I trained hard and made it worthwhile once I was there.”
“I think this decision is about giving incentive to juniors to train, to improve and become better squash players, with longer term results in mind. They need to appreciate the chance to compete internationally, to train hard to get to that level, and to earn that paid-for trip overseas to represent Australia at the Worlds,” Urquhart (pictured above) added.
Squash Australia says they are maintaining their funding support for junior squash but focusing on a new program aimed at the younger age groups that provides junior representation through bilateral exchanges with other nations closer to home.
The first event under the program was a Trans-Tasman ‘Test match’ against New Zealand, followed by the Oceania Junior Championships in January.
“It was an opportunity for many young players to represent Australia and to allow more coaches to work at that level. Our national team staff are establishing the program with a number of nations to roll out from later this year,” said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell hopes that by expanding the junior base for the sport, through the regional exchanges as well as the continued expansion of the Australian Junior Squash Tour, Australia may one day see the highs of past decades when it was one of the leading competitive nations in the world.
“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 twenty or so these days. In the 90s there were ten,” he revealed.
“In saying that, Australia did finish in the top four at the 2013 Men’s and 2012 Women’s World Team Champions, and was the second highest medal winner at the last Commonwealth Games.
The Australian Junior Squash Tour is a competitive pathway for aspiring squash players, focused on building participation of juniors to expand the base for the sport. The first draft of the 2014 tour has over 90 events, including at the top level eight State Junior Championships, the Australian Junior (Closed) Championships, and the Australian Junior Open.
“The top events are certainly competitive and the standard is up there, however they are not at the standard of the World or British Juniors,”
“What needs to follow is the kids, their coaches and parents to understand the need to train harder and more often, and then put that into action.
Australian Squash has a federated structure in which the delivery of squash is primarily undertaken by the member State and Territory Squash Associations, and in 2014 Squash Australia will provide further funding support to each Association to assist in increasing junior training and development.
“The aim is simple – put in the training hours and work hard, so the restructured competitive opportunities both in Australia through the Australian Squash Tour, and the National Junior Team program can be taken advantage of,” added O’Donnell (pictured above).
However one source, who didn’t wish to be named but was impacted by the decision, says “the most common response here is that it is showing the world that we are in disarray and so, so far from the significant squash nation that we once were”.
“Parents believe this is embarrassing for Oz, and an appalling precedent that we are not going because we are not good enough. If everyone did that then only Egypt and England need to go!”
@SquashMadDotCom this is the end when a nation will only send a winning team!
— Mick Fiteni (@michaelfiteni) February 9, 2014
O’Donnell said that the decision was a very difficult one for Squash Australia to make.
“The organisation takes its responsibilities to world squash very seriously. If you look at the entry lists for the World Games, World Doubles, World Cup, World U21 Cup etc, in addition to the World Championships, Australia has always entered.
“Such decisions weigh heavily and are neither flippant or taken lightly. Frankly, this in particular wasn’t easy for the coaches who made the assessment, management who made the recommendation, and the Board who ‘signed off’. However just because a decision is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken,” O’Donnell concluded.”
- Australia currently has two players in the top 20 of the WSF world junior boys’ rankings, with Sam Ejtemai at eight and Rhys Dowling (pictured right) at 13. In the girls’ rankings, Jessica Turnbull is at five. The 2014 World Junior Squash Championships will be held in Namibia from August 10-21.
- The 24 nations who will compete include 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.
Pictures from Squash Mad archive, Squash Australia, Steve Cubbins (SquashSite) and www.fantasysquash.com