Due to Covid, the survival of squash in Rome is increasingly uncertain
By MONICA DRUSIAN – Squash Mad Correspondent
Squash in Rome is experiencing a period of deep crisis. With a population of around four million people, the capital of Italy has got a total number of 10 courts (three of which are not open to the public and two are inside a hotel).
This has compromised the spread of the sport for years, especially among the younger population. Now squash is in danger of disappearing, following the uncertainty and difficulties due to Covid and the unclear future of squash courts.
The scarcity of courts in Rome is a known problem. The only club dedicated to squash is the historic Lanciani club, that has been active since 1981 and has got four courts. Another three are in Villa Borghese, reserved for members of an exclusive sports centre, two are inside the Sheraton E.U.R. Hotel and one is inside Freetime Sporting Club, all accessible to the public.
The difficulties in reopening squash courts
When sports facilities reopened after the lockdown, squash was faced with a series of difficulties that seem impossible to overcome today.
The obligation to play with only one person accompanied by one coach, did not allow any of us to return to normal playing activities in a short time.
Lessons are possible but, given the restrictive measures, the time available has been limited and, consequently, earnings have decreased, both for the coaches and for the owners of the courts. As a result, the latter found themselves having to choose between remaining closed or adopting alternative solutions.
Like Freetime Sporting Club which, in order to respect the rules on distancing, has assigned the squash court to “striding”, using the front wall as a projection screen. Or like structures not primarily interested in squash (eg. Sheraton E.U.R. hotel), which has chosen not to reopen them.
The risk is that these (temporary for now) measures will become definitive, with the replacement of squash with other activities.
The motivation would not only be compliance with the rules on distancing, but also the greater profitability of other activities compared to squash, characterised by a greater density of participants and a high frequency of turnover.
There is a need for serious confrontation at a higher level
The crisis, which began years ago, has now become more evident than ever. Thus the need to address the issue of the availability of squash courts at a higher level.
The problem of the scarcity of squash facilities is chronic not only in Lazio, but also at national level. The issue of building new structures is crucial for the survival of our beloved sport in Italy and should be the subject of a joint commitment between the Italian Squash Federation (FIGS), CONI and local associations.
The voices of the protagonists of squash in Rome
Here are the stories from the voices of the protagonists of squash in Rome. Over the years they have carried out activities and initiatives with passion and commitment, to allow our sport to continue to live. Now, they continue to fight every day to make the dream of a participated and widespread squash come true.
“Freetime Sporting Club, an elegant club born over 30 years ago in Monteverde, had 2 squash courts, already reduced to 1 since 2000. In 2005 it became a member of the Italian Squash Federation and began an intense competitive activity.
Over the years it has hosted various events in its structure, including the Regional Championships and various stages, held by athletes of international level.”
Thus begins the story of Massimiliano Veracini, a Federal Coach who for years has personally followed the competitive (and non-competitive) activity at Freetime. He continues: “The biggest problem remains the difficulty of attracting the attention of the youngest. In the recent past, efforts to bring squash outside its four walls, with inflatable playgrounds, have been hardly worthwhile.
“Squash is appreciated, without a doubt, but it encounters difficulties in practicing it, especially in metropolitan cities like Rome, where reaching a playing field can be a challenge!
“Despite numerous initiatives and the adoption of different tournament modalities, the number of participants is unlikely to increase.
“The spread of outdoor activities, in conjunction with the current COVID problem, is risking to put squash in serious difficulty. The risk that the management of Freetime decides not to return the squash court to the players at the end of the pandemic is really high.”
The difficulty of building new courts is at the root of the crisis. This is the opinion of Marco Verticchio, President of the ASD Open Squash, active in Rome for two years.
The Association has carried out an intense activity to promote sport in the Capital, organising the last edition of the regional tournament.
Here is what he told me: “Squash in Rome is seriously in danger of disappearing for many reasons. In my opinion, there is unfortunately the serious difficulty in building the courts at the base.
“As we know, to build squash facilities, unlike other sports that are practiced outdoors, a certain volume is required, which has objective difficulties in finding. Construction by starting on an entirely new project by private entrepreneurs is absolutely impossible, as the cost is so high that there would be no return on investment for many years.
“ASD Open Squash, since its foundation, has been trying to create its own structure, to give its athletes and all fans the opportunity to practice this sport.”
Lately, in accordance with FIGS, a project was carried out for the construction of four fields to be built in the municipality of Rome, with the hope that CONI, or the municipality itself, will give us suitable spaces.
The development of a new project would bring new blood to the whole Roman squash environment, which otherwise risks remaining closed in on itself. With the inevitable consequence that we are experiencing.
Marco added: “The closure of the various existing courts is a very precise symptom of how, up to now, the clubs have given little importance to the image of squash and to competition, which is its driving factor, thinking only of the accounts of their Association.”
The only reference point for squash in Rome remains the historic Club Lanciani, with four courts. I asked Carlos Camino, the club’s technical Director and administrative Manager, to answer a few questions. Here’s what he shared:
How did you experience the reopening of the club?
C: “At Lanciani club we experienced the opening with a lot of uncertainty about the immediate future, given the restrictive conditions for the practice of squash at that time, the situation still uncertain about the development of the pandemic and, moreover, the arrival of summer, not the best season for squash. However, we decided to reopen immediately, without considering the economic aspect. Together with the property we wanted to postpone any economic evaluation until after the summer, without wasting time for the resumption of activity which was our priority.”
What was the response of the players?
C: “The response has been more than positive, given the unfavorable scenario with which we started. So, I think that the conditions for being able to remain open will depend primarily on the development of the Covid situation, whether or not there will be a second wave.”
How important is it to give players their courts back?
C: “It’s fundamental. The most important thing for the practice of any sport are the facilities where you can play. Without them, it is not possible to move forward.”
A new impetus is needed
The theme of squash facilities is vital for the survival of our beloved sport. In Rome and beyond.
Private activity, left alone to guide the evolution of squash, is not enough to continue to feed a constant influx of players and to ensure adequate generational turnover.
There is a need for a centralised push from the Italian Squash Federation to give new impetus to local activities that operate in the area.
We thank Squash Mad for the space it has given us and for allowing us to launch an appeal: that something will be done as soon as possible to save squash from the consequences of a profound crisis, which began 20 years ago and which, accelerated by Covid, could mean the end of the practice of squash, at least in the capital of Italy.
Article in Italian here:
Pictures courtesy of Monica Drusian