Stars on court at Edgbaston to support new foundation launched by Deon Saffery
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Reporter
An initiative to encourage girls, and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to get fitter and more active through participating in squash was launched with a 3 day festival of squash event at Edgbaston Priory Club at the end of last week in Birmingham, England.
The project is the brainchild of Edgbaston Priory player and coach, Deon Saffery, a Welsh former professional player who reached a career high world ranking of no. 42. Initially, Deon was awarded a grant to go into schools to introduce kids to squash. The problem was that she was giving kids a taster of squash with no real avenue to play thereafter as they couldn’t afford the club fees, let alone get to the club to play.
She therefore decided to set up a foundation to provide unfit, unhealthy and underprivileged kids the opportunity to better their lives through free squash, education and nutrition.
She decided to target girls specifically as her extensive research revealed that they in particular are simply not active enough. For instance, 30% of girls under seven are not getting enough exercise and two million females are doing less exercise than males.
The PSA Foundation, as well as Deon’s Club and colleagues, have provided enthusiastic support to help Deon develop her ideas and take things forward. Mike Edwards, Head of Squash and Racketball at Edgbaston Priory commented: “Edgbaston Priory Club were honoured to host such a successful event. We have worked closely with Deon to accommodate the launch of Empower and will look forward to being a host to all of the exciting plans she has now the fundraising has been so successful. We are proud of you Deon, well done.”
In addition, Deon was fortunate to secure the services of four of the world’s highest profile female professional players, including the current World No. 1, a former World No 1 and eight-time World Champion, the current British National Champion and finally the English No. 1. (Raneem El Welily, Nicol David, Tesni Evans and Sarah-Jane Perry respectively).
The launch event lasted three days, from Thursday 21 March to Saturday 23 March, with the four professional players battling out in a round robin series of exhibition matches each night. The professionals also gave their time to allow attendees to get on court for ‘play the pro’ sessions. There were also girls’ and ladies’ clinics where as many females as possible were encouraged to get on court with the pros.
In the exhibition matches, there were close matches throughout and it was the current World Champion and World No. 1 who came out on top, remaining unbeaten over her 3 matches. The full results were as follows:
S.J. v Tesni: 3-2
Raneem v Nicol: 3-1
S.J. v Nicol: 3-2
Raneem v Tesni: 3-2
Tesni v Nicol: 3-2
Raneem v S.J.: 3-1
Nicol David and Sarah-Jane Perry have provided their reflections on the launch event and the project in general, which have been reproduced in full at the end of this article.
Squash fans from all over the country, and from as far away as Ireland, flocked to Edgbaston Priory to watch the fantastic squash action and take part in the sessions with the pros. Mike Broadbent from Lings Squash Club in Northampton, attended with several club mates and 3 of their female junior players, including his daughter.
He said that everyone in his party, and especially the juniors, were “fired up” after the event. He continued, “It was a great atmosphere with a stellar line up, and an incredibly positive message. “Awesome” was the one word that was used the most by our juniors, but I also detected an enhanced level of enthusiasm and inspiration that got me thinking.
“When girls get to witness events like this, it really helps us in our drive to ensure they love their sport, and to keep at it. It demonstrates that sport – and squash in particular – is a life-enhancing activity that can give you much more than just exercise. I hope this project will have far-reaching effects.”
The launch event has got the Foundation off to a fantastic start in terms of its fundraising ambitions, raising over £8,500 which will provide 1 day a week of squash, education and nutrition for 16 young girls. The aim is to start the project in September, with the plan being to progress to 2 days a week the following year.
Reflecting on the launch, Deon commented: “I am feeling extremely proud and grateful for the success of the Empower Squash Foundation Launch Event. It has surpassed my expectations and I hope to make the Foundation a success by having a positive impact on the futures of the young girls who are going to be part of the Foundation come September”.
Everyone at Squash Mad wishes Deon, the Foundation and its supporters every success in taking this impressive project forward and we look forward to reporting on its further progress.
Nicol David’s thoughts:
“My reaction when I was first approached by Deon about this women’s exhibition was one of real excitement to be part of it, especially as it is run by a female squash player wanting to create one of the first women’s squash events to focus on raising awareness about girls’ and women’s participation through squash. It is a great initiative by her and fantastic that it was supported fully by the Edgbaston Priory Club to host this event.
“With the PSA Foundation being a main partner, it was only natural to play our part representing the women’s tour to contribute to this cause. I hope that these women’s events will be a source of encouragement for more to come and I hope one day I can follow suit too.”
Sarah-Jane Perry’s thoughts:
“When Deon first spoke to me about the event, I was on board straight away. I’m passionate about building girls’ and women’s sport and truly believe that visibility is key. This event was perfect, it showcased the four of us as players, but also gave people the chance to get on court with us, ask us questions and know more about our individual stories of how we got to where we are. The event itself was amazing, nothing beats the feeling of knowing you are entertaining people that have specifically come to watch us play!
“I will be supporting the Foundation further in the future without a doubt. It would be great to make it an annual event but living locally I would also love to support it on a regular basis so the kids can get to know me and I can assist in helping them realise the potential in themselves on and off court.”
Pictures courtesy of Empower Girls Squash Foundation / Mike Broadbent