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US Open: Comparing squash and racquetball

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US Open: Where were the Americans in squash and racquetball? 
By FREDDY RAMIREZ  – Editor of Restrung Magazine

US Open squash champions Mohamed Elshorbagy and Nicol David
US Open squash champions Mohamed Elshorbagy and Nicol David

This year both the Delaware Investments US Open Squash Championships and the United Healthcare United States Open Racquetball Championships had non-American champions.

Though this is not uncommon for the squash side. But, over the last few years, racquetball’s biggest prize has been taken by non-Americans.

And for the first time in history, there were no Americans holding first or second place in either the Men’s and Women’s pro draws.

Racquetball, which has historically been an American sport, only over the past few years has begun to produce serious professional players outside of the United States. Racquetball is growing in popularity in Mexico and South America.

US Open racquetball champions Kane Waselenchuk (Canada) and Paola Longoria (Mexico)
US Open racquetball champions Kane Waselenchuk (Canada) and Paola Longoria (Mexico)

On the squash side, the history has been, typically, the US Open is won by non-Americans. In Squash, Americans struggle to produce top tier professional Squash players. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but mostly it’s a numbers game. As it is with racquetball.

Numbers talk…

Players in the US.
Racquetball (US) 4, 357,000 participants – core players 2,448,000*
Squash (US) 1,112,000 participants – core players 387,000*

Though we don’t have hard numbers, we’ve heard numbers worldwide have gone as high as 14 million participants for racquetball, which we think wildly optimistic. For squash, hard numbers for worldwide participants are indicated at around 20 million*.

The International Racquetball Federations lists 103 countries that are members, though the numbers of it’s constituents that actively participate and have funded programs is probably a much smaller number.

The World Squash Federation probably has harder figures than ours, which are 175 countries (where it is played)* – 127 national federations*

Looking at the US Collegiate scene, Squash has a more solid core than does racquetball, which is probably why Squash manages to raise more money for professional events and social engagement programming here in the States than racquetball has been able to. We admit, this is purely speculation on our part, but we feel pretty confident in saying this.

But this observation is less about numbers and more about pointing to both US Opens looking at who the winners are and saying, “This is noticeable.”

Freddy Ramirez
RestrungMagazine.com

* 2012 SGMA Sports Marketing Survey – Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association

Pictures courtesy of US Open Squash and Restrung Magazine

 

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4 Comments

  1. Freddy eloquently brings the situation to light.

    In the US the best male athletes play American football and basketball.

    The next best play baseball.

    The next best play tennis and soccer.

    The unfortunate fact is that few top athletes gravitate toward squash or racquetball.

  2. Elvis played racquetball and built a court at Graceland. The hands vs. racquets match was held in Memphis in the 1970s. The Memphis State college team won the national racquetball championship several times in the 1980s when it was a club sport and produced a world champion, Andy Roberts. A local club hosted the world pro racquetball championship until ten years ago, won by Kane several times. But this is all history. A third of the freshman students at a nearby liberal arts college play a varsity sport but almost nobody plays squash or racquetball even though there are good courts. The St. Jude Marathon next month will attract thousands of runners of all ages. That’s the reality. Those “participation” numbers are fantasy.

  3. Thanks to Freddy and to Squashmad.com for passing info along. I agree with John and have questions about participation levels. However, I will add one source that suggests that squash participation is growing, while that for racquetball isdeclining, with the ratio in favor of racquetball now less than 3-to-1:

    http://www.statista.com/statistics/191922/participants-in-racquetball-in-the-us-since-2006/

    http://www.statista.com/statistics/191958/participants-in-squash-in-the-us-since-2006/

  4. John, though participation numbers can be inflated, they do help with indicating just how penetrating awareness can be.

    Ted, so true… really good athletes typically have their choice of sports they want to participate in, mostly. There are situation where better access and awareness can affect those choices. To make a point.. I’ll ask,. was Lebron James ever on a Squash or Racquetball court growing up?

    Jason… Thanks a ton for the stat links! Love seeing this stuff.

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