EXCLUSIVE by ROD GILMOUR (Squash Mad Correspondent)
In Fort Canning, Singapore once boasted the biggest squash centre in the world, a healthy 24 courts during the sport’s boom era which would be the envy of any city today. Yet the tropical republic is now under threat of having fewer than 20 courts with its own national centre earmarked for demolition and no replacement in sight.
Having spent several days in Singapore this week, squash is rising against the tide thanks to determined and passionate officials who continue to stave off being a sideshow sport.
By hosting the Marigold Singapore Open a stone’s throw from the Kallang Squash Centre mooted for the bulldozers, officials hope to convince Sport Singapore suits as to why squash has a healthy, driven future.
“As a squash player, I’m against any courts being demolished,” England No.1 Mohamed Elshorbagy told Squash Mad. “It’s sad to see and I hope they can do something about it. I don’t know the politics but I hope that this tournament can help show the quality of our sport.
“I always find it difficult to hear in any sports that are suffering and without having a back-up plan. And you would hope they [Singapore Sport] have a back-up plan.”
Previously, an exhibition between the best of Egypt and Asia in men’s and women’s squash was in the offing to help stimulate the sport, before Covid ultimately helped the Singapore Open find gold tier status and a gap in the calendar with the PSA Tour. When the deal was struck, officials inked a three-year deal to host the event.
Currently, there would be nowhere suitable to host any squash event, or early rounds, in Singapore when the Sports Hub is due to be renovated in 2023, without a home for squash.
“If you don’t give me a centre I won’t be able to hold an event,” Singapore Squash president Patrick Thio is asking of the national sports agency.
“The largest centre I will have is six courts with no viewing gallery. How am I going to host this type of event?
For now, Thio and Co are adhering to everything asked of them. Sport Singapore wants technology, arts, carbon neutrality, as well as working with handicapped, underprivileged and corporates. Singapore Squash can tick off everything on the checklist.
Moreover, it has a blueprint to house a modern centre on an island where land is hard to come by. Thio has visions for a three-story, carbon neutral building with 15 courts, to include doubles and Jumbo doubles.
“I only need the space of two tennis courts,” he says. “I’m not asking very much and to do a carbon neutral building the cost will be S$20 million, with 10 singles courts on the ground floor, five courts on the first floor, with moveable walls to turn into three doubles courts, and two jumbo courts.”
The Singapore sports minister is due to attend finals day at the OCBC Arena, where he will hopefully be sucked in by the live squash atmosphere and all that can be achieved alongside hosting big events.
Elshorbagy, who will play an all-British clash against Joel Makin in the last four, was enthused over the return of the Singapore Open to the PSA calendar. He hopes that more top women will travel next year, while raising the importance of an ‘Asian swing’ to the tour.
He said: “I’m glad we have the top players on the men’s side and sad that the top three women aren’t here, especially as it is the first time to have the Singapore Open in such a long time.
“Malaysia has supported squash for a long time and to have all the players back in Asia after such a long time is great to see. I do hope that by having the Asia tour back will help keep the sport alive and to stop further courts being demolished.”
Pictures courtesy of Singapore Squash and PSA World Tour