Squash Mad

New columnist Barry Watkins: How squash needs to become a glamour sport

We need more fantastic events like Canary Wharf, with Miguel Rodriguez diving across court against Marwan ElShorbagy, to raise the profile of squash

‘We need a more positive image to grow squash again’
By BARRY WATKINS – Squash Mad Columnist

There has been a lot of negative posting about squash on social media during the past few weeks and months over clubs closing down, squash not being in the Olympics and the current issue of David Lloyd Clubs removing courts for other activities.

As I have said time and time again, this is due to the lack of participation and retention of players in our country. According to statistics, since 1983 in the UK nearly THREE MILLION people have stopped playing our game.

That is an overwhelming figure. This is due to age, health, natural wastage, and poor retention of new and young people that have been introduced to the game.

We have more qualified coaches in England than ever before, and a fantastic grass roots programme. This programme from what I can see has gotten better each year since 1983, with more schools being involved and great club participation. But clearly all this is to no avail apart from slowing down the decline.

Like all of you out there this saddens me greatly, for we do have a great game. But all I hear is moaning about it and how we need more coaching and grass roots work.

Now I hear that courts with a space invaders game on the front wall will save the day. I ask you, will this really help the retention of players that we need? Or will it just line the pockets of the installers of these courts? We all know the leisure industry has to reinvent its products with the latest fad to keep on making money.

Have any of you asked yourself the question, why so many of our past top players go to the States to coach? Just look at how it’s growing there, look at what are they doing, and most importantly you need to examine and understand their commercial view towards squash.

In America, coaches usually report to a Squash Director who is in overall charge of the business side of the operation. He or she is directly responsible for overseeing the coaches, and making sure that courts are kept busy at all times of day to generate revenues. Bonuses are paid if targets are met. If targets are not met, the courts may well be converted to fitness or dance studios.

How many squash clubs in the UK, many run by volunteer committees, adopt this management strategy? The answer is very few. And, all the while America offers greater financial rewards for the game’s leading coaches, employed both in clubs and colleges, then the brain drain will continue.

I can go on and on, but until the majority of squash lovers realise that society has dramatically changed since our younger days, and, thanks to so-called “reality TV”  most kids simply want to be famous more than anything these days (without necessarily having an ounce of talent to achieve this), we have a problem. Or, more accurately, squash has an image problem.

Squash has to become glamorous, with high-end socio-economic groups watching it. Then we will get the big sponsors, the mainstream TV, and then the fame for the players and the retention of the young.

We have fantastic professional tournaments in New York’s Grand Central Station, London’s Canary Wharf, a glass court at the Pyramids, and superb staging of the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai. But the coverage outside of the squash media barely scratches the surface.

There is a lot to do to provide a springboard for such an outlook, and there has to be a unified approach involving top players, clubs and governing bodies. Please don’t tell me this is not the way. Just look at tennis. The rewards are massive.

The Times recently published a feature concerning details of Roger Federer’s multi-million dollar sponsorship details, a phenomenal level of income made possible by the global reach of tennis, and the hours of live TV coverage providing exposure for the top global brands (private jets, watches, cars, clothing ranges, champagne and chocolate) whose logos adorn his shirts.

At the age of 36, his sponsorship deal with Nike ended in March and he signed a new 10-year contract with Japanese brand Uniqlo, whose clothing he wore for the first time at Wimbledon. He continued wearing his Nike tennis shoes, with the RF logo owned by Nike, because Uniqlo do not make footwear. In 2016, Federer earned more than 58 million dollars from appearances and endorsements.

In women’s tennis, Serena Williams earned just 62,000 dollars in prize money between June 2017 and June 2018 after taking a long break from the game because of her pregnancy, but she was still banking 18 million dollars a year from sponsorships and endorsements.

Squash players have also cast envious glances towards the world of badminton, where female Indian star P.V. Sindhu earned 8.5 million dollars last year.

Badminton stars are huge personalities in the Asian market, where Nicol David has opened new doors for squash, but our game lags miles behind in all aspects of promotion and sponsorship.

The collapse of the Women’s World Championship in Kuala Lumpur, where a marketing agency failed to bring in any sponsors, underlined the difficulties that squash faces.

In not quite 140 years squash has gone from a schoolboy pastime to the most exhilarating, exhausting and explosive game in the world.

I will explain in another post how we can start to achieve our objectives, but we all have to be on the same side.
 

Picture by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com) 

 

Posted on August 27, 2018

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About The Author

Barry Watkins

Barry Watkins is a former professional player who reached the top 50 in the world before injuries ended his career. After a long break from the game, Barry's renewed love for squash was ignited when he met up with his old friend Jahangir Khan in 2016. It is once again his all-consuming passion.

11 Comments

  1. Ferez S. Nallaseth, PhD August 27, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Hi!
    These are all very good points. But they convey responses to the problem that Squash faces that are more of secondary solution. Many of the lost Squash Players in England come at in a period when there is little time to learn a tough Racket Sport due to various socioeconomic factors. Racket ball, which is far easier to learn, seems to be doing much better – at least in the general population of the USA. These losses of Squash Players are at least partially compensated by the gains of Players in other geographical locations.

    The fundamental problem is the inability to communicate the detail on the court (spins, racket work, spatial sense, foot work, etc..) to the Audience. In the distant future that can be changed with extant science and technology. And in so doing commercial TV, and resultant the political and economic clout as well as the growth of the game will follow. Now the solutions including the ‘Image of Squash’ or even those ‘Video Game’ solutions are more likely to succeed. Unfortunately, by themselves even if these recommended changes are made the needed difference will not be effected!

    We have made some of the explanations and suggestions have been made before:

    (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

    Ferez Nallaseth, PhD

  2. Mark Bellinger August 27, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    I concur

    Squash is a sport played by professionals but run by amateurs http://marks.world/celebrations-as-ioc-grants-squash-2020-place

  3. Ted Gross August 28, 2018 at 3:15 am

    Interesting points, but is squash growing in the States?

    Most Americans couldn’t tell you what squash is.

  4. Andrew turner August 28, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    I am not sure Britain can ever replicate what the USA has. not sure that scale could translate. After all we forget the UK is a small country.

    it’s a shame so many have been lost to the game but let’s be honest it’s a hard game to play at age 50 for example. natural wastage is going to be big and new generations have to come through.

    For those who play the game it seems an eternal frustration with all these court closures by the corporation’s and the general publics lack of exposure and recognition. maybe it’s destined to be the forever minority sport

  5. Andrew turner August 29, 2018 at 11:47 am

    the point I also want to make is that squash by it’s very nature is not glamorous to the young. total commitment inside a sweaty box is not going to attract many youngsters in today’s world. there is definitely a personality type who play this game and it’s not mainstream.

    as an aside the introduction of best of 3 in PSl is not good for the spectator value. quickish matches that do not build any pressure. it’s a sprint to the finish that’s it.
    arrive 7pm go home at 8.30pm. England squash have mucked up with that one.

  6. ted gross August 29, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    Agreed. Best of 3 is a terrible idea, and PAR 11 lacks drama period.

    The brains of today’s youth are so altered by electronics’ addiction that to draw them in requires a major shift.

    For starters, a scoring feature where one player can KO the other.

  7. Ferez S. Nallaseth, PhD August 30, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    To an earlier comment by Andrew Turner supporting James Willstrop on withdrawing from the Olympic Movement:

    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!

  8. Andrew turner August 31, 2018 at 8:14 am

    the point James is making farez is that for too long squash has made serious attempts to impress IOC with presentation campaigns that have been effectively ignored. he is cheesed off with them and has every right to be. the sports they have chosen instead are a cosmic joke.

    it does not serve the sport well to have begging sessions from the likes of Ramy.

    I am not sure you are saying any more than just continue making presentations to people who ignore cause it’s the right of players to be in the Olympics.

    I am not convinced Olympic recognition would be the answer to our prayers anyway. the commonwealth’s are great but they have not necessarily changed anything for the sport as a whole

  9. Ferez S. Nallaseth, PhD August 31, 2018 at 11:42 am

    Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for your attempt to clarify this matter. Unfortunately, James, the overwhelming majority of the Squash community and you simply miss the point. The perceived rejection, or lack of acceptance in the Olympics, has nothing to do with the proven level of racket athleticism, conditioning or growth of the game and its champions who are at the pinnacle of sport. Nor does it have anything to do with a deliberately malicious Sports or General Audience nor with the indignity of our pleading with them and our understandable frustration with the Sports or General Audience. The point is very simply that Squash is economically non-profitable as is repeatedly shown by the closure of Squash Courts. Translation Squash neither has the Global socio-political nor the socio-economic clout required for entry into the Olympics for the simple reason that it is not on commercial TV where it has to compete with far more graphic, telegenic and so easily understood sports. This is because Squash is too complex a game with an extremely high density of barely detectable strokes, moves, spatial orientations, etc.. superimposed on the obvious rails and cross-court trajectories of the ball to be successfully televised commercially as an exciting sport. Especially for the vast majority of the uninitiated audience.

    This problem can eventually be solved way into the future with the already developed power of contemporary science, e.g. in Optics & Super-computation. Despite their professions the IOC only really cares about clout and money – and Squash in its current form cannot meet these concerns. I understand James’ frustration – but did he or the other Squash Champions give up when they were having bad streaks or years? A credible attempt depends on adapting and improvising by incorporating new scientific tools (links re-posted below). Ceasing to make an attempt at the Olympics is like the little boy who could not win on the soccer field and so took his ball and went home. It is also completely contradictory to the Hallmark of Squash – resiliency! I know this is strong medicine. I also know a little more of the problems of the game as a middle order (ranked) competitor (who ran into a wall in trying to get to the top) – and a scientist. So please pardon any liberties you might perceive as being taken.

    Kind regards,

    Ferez

    (1) http://www.carteblanchesquash.com/2014/04/09/promoting-squash-the-key-to-the-olympic-door/

    (2) https://www.google.com/search?ei=RiKJW_95j-T8Bs2Dv4gP&q=Olympics+Squash+Ferez&oq=Olympics+Squash+Ferez&gs_l=psy-ab.3…6123.7253.0.7934.6.6.0.0.0.0.100.451.5j1.6.0….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.374…0i22i30k1j33i160k1j33i21k1.0.vYqh3jfNNYw

  10. Andrew turner September 1, 2018 at 9:34 am

    money or economic clout is definitely a reason. although great attempts have been made to promote the game is recent years with squash tv.
    and I agree about the subtleties and complexities of the game. you really need to have played it to understand those variations. to expect random Joe public to pick things up is unrealistic.

    Mark Bellinger has posted his blog on the Olympics and I find myself recognising most of what he says.

    I

  11. Ferez S. Nallaseth, PhD September 1, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    Although the PSA and Squash TV have made improvements which represent a good stopgap in communication, they are nowhere near a level sufficient to overcome the enormity of the barrier to communicating the game on Commercial TV.

    Qualitatively and quantitatively the level of improvements required are orders of magnitude above the level of images and footage on Squash TV. Very simply put although I am glad that Squash TV exists the level of resolution required to project subtle movements of muscles, players, spins of balls, racket work, footwork, spatial and physical dimensions of turns-stretches twists-drives-sprints is simply beyond that of Squash TV. Attaining the requisite level of resolution is only possible, in the distant future, and only by engaging collaboration between contemporary science and Scientists in solving the problem. Examples include fields of Optics and Super-computing and that part of the Squash community that ‘knows by doing’ e.g. articulate champions.

    The required level of improvement in the level of visual perception and the technical comprehension on which it depends, goes far beyond having played the game at our level. Or for that matter even at the level of the greatest of players/champions/coaches. This is so as the communication has to reveal, capture and allow analyses of details even going beyond the visual, physical and cognitive limits of humans. Then alone will the quality and rate of image production meet the requirements of commercial TV networks. Perhaps initially via licensed broadcasts from Squash TV which is improved by Quantum jumps with these scientific and technical innovations. Commercial TV would then become persuaded that the audience will exist someday to justify giving Squash a chance for a place in its programming. And with it an opportunity to develop Economic and Political clout leading to the Olympics – and much more in terms of real growth that will all follow.

    The alternative is implosion or extinction. The inevitably of this choice does not seem to dawn on many quarters of the Squash Community.

    I would encourage you to re-visit these old links. They seem to elicit a negative response from those who most need to adapt and improvise – in Darwinian Terms!

    These words are much stronger than I generally prefer using and know that they will continue falling on deaf ears. However, I would rather make a failing effort than accept the uncontested destruction of a game through negligence.

    Kind regards,

    Ferez

    (1) http://www.carteblanchesquash.com/2014/04/09/promoting-squash-the-key-to-the-olympic-door/

    (2) https://www.google.com/search?ei=RiKJW_95j-T8Bs2Dv4gP&q=Olympics+Squash+Ferez&oq=Olympics+Squash+Ferez&gs_l=psy-ab.3…6123.7253.0.7934.6.6.0.0.0.0.100.451.5j1.6.0….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.5.374…0i22i30k1j33i160k1j33i21k1.0.vYqh3jfNNYw

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