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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

James Willstrop interview: Squash should not demean itself in the pursuit of a place in the Olympics

Geoff Bewhttp://www.squashmad.com
Geoff Bew’s career as a news journalist has taken him from the Granite City of Aberdeen to Kent via Bahrain, where trying to escape temperatures of 48C he took his first tentative hits with a squash racket. Since then he’s become addicted to playing and religiously follows every tournament on Squash TV.

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James Willstrop wins the men’s gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast

‘Squash must stop begging to join the party’
Interview by GEOFF BEW

Squash should not demean itself in pursuit of being accepted into the Olympic Games, says one of the world’s top players.

Three consecutive bids to get the sport into the global showpiece have been rejected in recent years, causing bewilderment among supporters.

The refusal to welcome in a game played by an estimated 20 million people in 188 countries has been all the more galling when the likes of skateboarding, surfing and climbing will feature at Tokyo 2020 instead.

Former world number one James Willstrop has spoken at International Olympic Committee (IOC) conferences and signed petitions in an attempt to get squash included in the Games. He got his hands on a gold medal when he won the men’s singles at the recent Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, and he would love to see squash players given the opportunity to fight for the ultimate golden prize in the Olympics.

James Willstrop wins the gold medal in Gold Coast

But he says given the strength of the sport – with all-glass courts helping produce dynamic matches, and equal prize money between men and women since 2017 – it’s time for players and officials to stop “begging”.

“All your life as squash players you are secondary people, you walk down the street and nobody knows you – and I wouldn’t want it to be any different – but I think people don’t quite value the sport because we’re not as famous and that’s not fair,” he said.

“It’s not just squash; hockey, badminton – why is football put on a pedestal and a lot of other sports just dismissed?

“That’s the thing that comes in with the Olympics bid, because we are not football, we are not tennis and we are not rugby we have to sort of bow to them.”

One of the most frustrating aspects for Willstrop is seeing Ramy Ashour, arguably the game’s most talented player, reduced to pleading with IOC officials.

“There’s no one with more racket ability than that man and for someone who I don’t think at this moment on planet earth can be bettered it’s very sad that he feels he has to get down on his knees and beg to the IOC,” he said.

“These are some of the greatest athletes in the world we are talking about and when we have to do that it gets a bit demeaning really.

“I don’t know what else we can do, once you get rejected two or three times it gets a bit annoying really.

“We’ve got a damned good sport here.”

Speaking ahead of the new season, which for Willstrop starts on September 4 in Nantes, the world number 17 says he hasn’t set himself any specific targets.

“It’s quite unusual, a lot of players like to have goals but I actually don’t,” he said.

“The only real goal I have is to try to get the best out of myself and take each tournament as I can.

“I’ve always been a bit more relaxed like that, I don’t plan everything to the nth degree.

“Getting older and having a bit more perspective and having children affects that.” 

Pictures  courtesy of WSF 


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  1. this is exactly right James. And a complete vindication on what Jon power said years ago about squash and the Olympics. Let them have their multi sport games and let squash build it’s own reputation through it’s own endeavours. If they cannot see what squash has and represents it’s their problem. No more money and time wasted pandering to these IOC please.

    • Sounds lofty and Imperial – but totally irrelevant to the problem the game faces!

      There is no activity in any urban setting that can thrive without a place in commercial TV and the economic and political clout that it brings. Which means communicating the details of a difficult dense and subtle sport – with few Players having the spectacularly captivating moves and racket work of a Ramy Ashour. This becomes possible in the distant future with methods that are already established in Optics and Super-computing.

      Without that adaptation we will continue imploding including with the continued closure of commercial Squash courts in the UK. This is not due to bias but for reasons of simple socio-economics! These recent closures even include courts where someone of the enormous stature of a multiple British Open & World Champion like Laura Massaro had trained!

      Squash competes with visually graphic and telegenic, sports and activities, e.g. formation swimming, bungee jumping, golf surf boarding, sailing and sky diving albeit with a fraction of the athletic demands of squash. The assumption that we will merrily thrive by isolating ourselves from the mainstream of sport and culture is plain wrong. Without adapting, whether for the Olympics or otherwise the game will gradually decline and perhaps even cease to exist! It will take time – although perhaps not as long as it took Dodos to become extinct.

      The game is diminishing in its Nation of Founding – the UK! As well as not growing in the West in general! Without adapting to economic and political realities, Squash will go the way of Racquets and Platform Tennis. And in the end does a small governing body or Professional Athletes who cannot possibly know the necessary Science really have the privilege of making this choice for the Global Squash community? One of lofty denial for all those many emerging and young players across the Planet? Those Players who come from every cultural and socio-economic background and are slaving to represent their game and country in the Olympics? It is similar to a privilege that Champions of the likes of James Willstrop, Nick Matthews and Laura Massaro, Peter Nicol among others have already enjoyed when they represented the UK at the Commonwealth Games!

      Many would say that is a large presumption even for the Wise and Learned in the ways of Squash!

  2. We respectfully differ with this self defeatist approach – and for reasons that have been outlined in spades. Whereas there is no question that Squash is one of the most demanding of sports in racket skills and conditioning it does not translate visually to easily accessible images communicating this. Which is what is needed for access to commercial TV, economic and political clout. All of these problems can eventually be solved (see links below). These are the only things that will finally get Squash into the Olympics – and keep it there! There is no doubt about either the dedication,or the work ethic or the racket genius of current or previous leaders of the Movement to bring Squash into the Olympics. They included the likes of Ramy Ashour or Nicol David or Jahangir Khan to name some of many. However, those traits will not enable them to bring better communication to Squash – which is the barrier that needs desperately to be solved!

    It would be a disservice to the game and the generations of young Squash Players inspired by it, if we walked away from the Olympics table – albeit with our notions of self-respect intact! Especially when it has nothing to do with the problem at hand.

    It would also be completely contradictory to the fundamentally resilient and characteristic hallmark of Players in the game! Something that I have personally witnessed over 40 years. Including the time at the TOC almost 15 years ago when a young James Willstrop went head to head and went wire to wire against an Anthony Ricketts who would have swamped most on that day! Ricketts was determined to run rampant but could barely squeeze through to a win after several overtime re-plays!

    (1) http://www.carteblanchesquash.com/author/ferez-nallaseth/

    (2) https://www.google.com/search?ei=vY6AW42iFJGe_QaS5bKoCg&q=ferez+squash+olympics&oq=ferez+squash+olympics&gs_l=psy-ab.3..33i160.20526.25347..25965…0.0..0.90.611.9……0….1..gws-wiz…….35i39j33i21.4OBkDFb7XgQ

    Kind regards,

    Ferez Nallaseth

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