By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
PSA chief Alex Gough is looking forward to a brighter future for the World Tour after facing some immense challenges caused by the Covid pandemic of 2020.
In a Christmas message, the PSA CEO looks forward to a brighter future in 2020 after he and his team battled to resurrect the World Tour after various lockdowns. He proudly thanks his loyal and industrious staff, who all continued working from home. Amazingly, not a single job was lost despite an obvious reduction in PSA revenues.
In his 2020 recap, Gough reports that more than 100,000 dollars was raised and shared among players who were facing serious serious economic hardship in many parts of the world.
Here is Alex Gough’s message in full:
2020 was an unprecedented year in the history of squash, with the global COVID-19 pandemic plunging the sport into a period of uncertainty and fundamentally changing the way we all live our lives.
After a magnificent start to the year – which saw Camille Serme, Mohamed ElShorbagy, Nour El Sherbini, Ali Farag and Hania El Hammamy all lift major honours – we were forced into the incredibly difficult decision to suspend professional squash following the outbreak of COVID-19.
The suspension was initially planned for six weeks. Six weeks then turned into six months due to the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus before professional squash returned with a bang in September in Manchester.
During this time, we made several changes to the way the association operates. In accordance with advice from the UK government, we closed our office and all UK-based staff have worked remotely since then and we are pleased to have retained all staff during this period.
While our tour team was hard at work liaising with tournament promoters to ensure we could get the PSA Tour up and running once more, we took heart from the way the squash community came together during the darkest days of the pandemic.
The reaction from the squash community across social media in particular – from the range of lockdown challenges to the way people turned their homes into squash courts – was incredible and it showed us just how important sport can be in keeping spirits up during these difficult times.
The squash community was also integral to the success of the PSA Foundation’s ‘We Are One’ fund, which was launched in the summer to support professional squash players who are experiencing both financial and emotional difficulties due to the impact of the pandemic.
We have raised over $100,000 which has been administered to players who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and this just would not have been possible without the incredible support of the squash community.
Away from the court, we renewed partnerships with Dunlop and Salming, while the PSA Foundation also signed a new partnership with Sporting Chance to create mental health support for our athletes.
We also welcomed Rowena Samarasinhe onto the PSA Board of Directors. Rowena has a great deal of experience in commercial law which we will feel prove invaluable to our future strategy. Rowena has already proved to be a great asset to the PSA in the six months since her appointment, and I would like to thank our board for their unwavering support throughout the past 12 months.
As part of our commitment to innovation and utilising new technology to grow the sport, we also made a strategic investment in Fun With Balls – the company behind the incredible interactiveSQUASH front wall – earlier this year which followed on from the investment we made in Sports Data Labs at the back end of 2019.
The support of our incredible sponsors and promoters was integral to ensure that we were able to resume the PSA Tour behind closed doors at the Manchester Open in September, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place. Mohamed and Nour El Tayeb got their hands on the coveted trophies to mark the return of professional squash in style.
CIB in particular played a huge role in the tour’s return to action. With their support we were able to stage the CIB PSA World Tour Finals, CIB Egyptian Open in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and also the CIB PSA Black Ball Open.
All three events saw our athletes put on a stunning showcase of the sport, with Marwan ElShorbagy and Hania El Hammamy rounding off the 2019-20 season with victory at the World Tour Finals.
In front of arguably the greatest backdrop in professional sport – the Great Pyramid of Giza – Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini then got 2020-21 off to a blistering start by capturing the Egyptian Open titles and with it the World No.1 spots. Ali then repeated the feat in Qatar in November as he saw off Paul Coll to make it back-to-back titles.
The Black Ball Open closed out 2020 earlier this month with two gripping finals as Fares Dessouky and Sarah-Jane Perry mounted stunning comebacks from two games down against Ali and Hania, respectively, to win their biggest titles yet.
Amidst all the upheaval that we have had to contend with in 2020, we also said a fond farewell to a number of players who have called time on their careers.
Then-World No.1 Raneem El Welily shocked the squash world in the summer when she announced that she was retiring to start a family with men’s World Champion Tarek Momen, while World No.3 Nour El Tayeb revealed earlier this month that she is expecting a child with Ali.
Everyone at the PSA wishes them the best for the future and, while Nour has signalled her intention to return to the sport, Raneem has confirmed that she has played on the tour for the final time, so I’d like to thank her for everything she has done for the sport over the past 19 years.
Earlier this month, the greatest German player of all time, Simon Rösner announced that he too is hanging up his racket. He joins Cameron Pilley, Ryan Cuskelly, Leo Au, Campbell Grayson, Annie Au, Victoria Lust and Samantha Cornett in retiring during 2020, and I would like to thank all of them for their service and dedication to the PSA Tour.
With COVID-19 vaccinations now beginning to be administered, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel as we move into 2021. We’re not through this yet though and there are still a number of challenges for us to negotiate in the coming months.
While we have provisionally scheduled the Manchester Open, El-Gouna International, Mauritius Open, Allam British Open, CIB PSA World Tour Finals and PSA World Championships presented by The Walter Family for April through to July, we continue to work incredibly hard with our tournament promoters to stage further events in the first half of the year.
It is also incredibly important to us that all of our players – not just those at the top of the rankings – have access to playing and earning opportunities, so we are also currently working hard to stage a number of Challenger Tour events.
With 11 events scheduled for January and February at the time of writing, we have made positive steps towards this and we will keep abreast of travel advice and local government restrictions in the future planning of these events as we aim to ultimately open the draws up to international participation.
We have made significant steps forward as we aim to bring the PSA Tour up to the level it was before the pandemic. There is no doubt that there is still some way to go, but the sport undoubtedly still has an incredibly bright future and I look forward to seeing what 2021 has in store for squash.
Happy New Year and stay safe,
PSA Chief Executive Officer
Pictures courtesy of PSA