From The Times of India
NEW DELHI: Top internationals competing in the $165,000 Punj Lloyd Professional Squash Association (PSA) Masters as well as the officials of the governing body of the sport feel the tournament deserved better attention and promotion.
They all say the world’s second most important tournament should have been better marketed to get crowds flocking to the swanky Siri Fort indoor sports complex built for the Commonwealth Games.
“Playing in front of empty rows of galleries is depressing,” said one of the players, not wanting to be identified, pointing to the deserted stadium.
The organisers cannot be exactly blamed for the poor response as the entry is free for the tournament featuring six of the top 10 professional players, including Englishman James Willstrop who is on the threshold of becoming the World No. 1. The other big names competing are the 2008 World Champion Ramy Ashour and former No. 1 Karim Darwish, both hailing from Egypt.
Lee Beachill, chief operation officer of PSA feels the tournament, which is one of the nine World Series event to be held this year, should have been promoted for at least six months before the start of the tournament. Infrastructure giants Punj Lloyd are the title sponsors of the tournament.
“We and the players are very happy to come here. The timing of the tournament makes it very important for players. There was a lot of excitement before it began as to whether James will become the new number one. The event is growing rapidly in India but the external PR needs to be a lot better. I see it has been organised really well but you have to get more eyeballs. That will happen only when you market it aggressively,” Beachill said.
Unlike the last two editions, the pre-tournament media conference was also given a miss.
Willstrop, the favourite to win the title in the absence of compatriot and defending championNick Matthew, is disappointed seeing only a handful of people watching the action at the state-of-the-art glass court here. Though popularising squash is a challenge in a cricket-crazy country like India, he feels there is enough audience for the sport across the world.
“I have played in many parts of the world and I can safely say people love watching squash. Squash playing nations like England will naturally have more crowds but I see the interest growing even in the middle east. The same can happen in India if the organisers promote the sport aggressively,” said Willstrop.
“The best example of good promotion are tournaments in America. The country doesn’t have many players on the tour but still people come to watch us in huge numbers. It is packed,” he added.
Louise Sharma, corporate communication group head of Punj Lloyd, says they have been doing a lot to create awareness about the tournament and the sport.
“Since squash is not popular in India, we even ended up paying money for telecasting the matches live this weekend. This besides having a big prize money,” Sharma said.
“There are not enough people probably because of the exams. We even decided against having tickets, the entry is free. The hoardings can be seen at various places in the capital.
“It was tough when we started three years ago, but now we have come a long way. It is very easy for people to say that we could have started promotion well before the tournament.”
The first edition of the PSA Masters was played in Mumbai and then shifted to Delhi. Their contract with PSA will be up renewal after the end of the current edition.