Thursday, February 29, 2024

New hope for 2020 Olympics after IOC changes event format

With cap on sports lifted, squash hopes to make Olympic Games debut in Tokyo in 2020

Squash is waiting for the green light for 2020. Squash Mad graphic by SIMON SCOTT
Squash is hoping for the green light for 2020. Squash Mad graphic by SIMON SCOTT

Hopes of squash gaining admission to the Olympics appear to be gaining traction after the IOC agreed to significant changes in the structure of future Games. The key decision voted in was the sweeping away of a cap on the number of sports, which could open the door for squash to appear in Tokyo in 2020. 

Instead of setting a cap of 28 sports, the IOC has now agreed a limit of 10,500 athletes and 310 events. This could mean the reduction of medals on offer in some sports, such as wrestling and weightlifting, which currently offer a myriad of medals in a bewildering variety of weight categories.  This move, alone, could signal the green light for squash to be welcomed into the Olympic fraternity.

The new IOC President, Thomas Bach, promised change after taking office, and he has clearly delivered on his pledge. He was known to be sympathetic to squash’s position after the IOC contradicted their own stated wish to introduce a “new” sport to the 2020 Games but instead readmitted wrestling, just a few months after the sport was kicked out of the Olympics for a variety of shortcomings.

The outcome of this week’s IOC Session in Monaco has provided significant encouragement for those bidding for squash to make a deserved debut at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The WSF bid team in Buenos Aires in 2013
The WSF bid team promote the 2020 message

It was after squash lost out to wrestling at the 2013 IOC meeting in Buenos Aires elected Bach to replace Jacques Rogge as IOC President. Bach initiated his Olympic Agenda 2020 consultation initiative to look at many aspects of the Games – including the composition of the Olympic Games Programme and how it will evolve.

World Squash Federation President N Ramachandran, who was in attendance at the IOC Session, heard confirmation that a more flexible approach will be introduced, based primarily on athlete numbers rather than sports, and that change could come as early as 2020.

Ramachandran is cautiously optimistic about the outcome, saying: “I have always said that my task has been to keep pushing at the Olympic Games Programme door for squash. Now that I can see that a little light is coming through at the edges I am delighted, of course.

“However, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. We simply remain hopeful that the changes that President Bach and his Executive Board make will take us forward onto the next stage of our dream being realised at the earliest opportunity.”

Baseball is hugely popular in Japan and is favourite among non-Olympic sports to be admitted to the Tokyo Games, but squash continues to lobby for a place.

Experienced Canadian IOC member Dick Pound, who has long championed squash’s bid for Olympic recognition, found himself at odds with London 2012 boss Sebastian Coe when asked which sports could possibly make way for squash.

He said: “Synchronised swimming… and maybe triple jump.” This drew an immediate rebuff from Lord Coe, who told the BBC: “Triple jump is a sacrosanct sport in track and field.”  

The British athlete, who won double Olympic gold in the 1500m, was adamant that the London Olympic Stadium should retain its running track despite the venue being handed over to the West ham United football club, necessitating a costly rebuilding programme.

Squash Mad continues to lobby for the inclusion of squash facilities at the Olympic Park, which has stripped out all of the temporary venues, with a mixture of housing and business facilities close to the Copper Box indoor arena and aquatic centre.  

With the PSA and WSA merging into a single body from January 1, the fact that the professional World Tour has a unified management structure can only tick another box in terms of the forward-thinking governance preferred by the IOC. 

Additional reporting by HOWARD HARDING


Graphic by Simon Scott. Picture courtesy of WSF 

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