Announcement today from Sport England:
Sport England has committed £13.5 million to squash and racketball with the twin aims of increasing the number of people playing the sport while maintaining the national squad’s world number one status.
Squash is one of three non-Olympic sports whose elite programmes are supported by Sport England alongside its talent development investment. Over the next four years we will invest £4.98 million in the England Squash and Racketball’s talent and elite programmes.
Much of this investment – £700,000 – will help to take players through from junior squad level to England national squads, via regional and super-regional tiers. This will support the development of more than 3,500 talented players between 11-and 18-years old.
Sport England is making an initial one year investment of £2.5m into the organisation’s work to support the sport’s grassroots, this will give England Squash and Racketball the opportunity to demonstrate that its plans for tackling the sport’s challenges are working. If there is clear evidence of sustainable progress, then further investment from a ring-fenced budget of £6.04 million may be made.
Currently around 263,000 people regularly play squash and there has been a gradual decline in numbers over the last five years. The biggest drop has been amongst 35-44 year olds – squash’s traditional heartland – (Editor’s note: they have all moved up into the over-45 age group) and a decline in number of women playing means the sport is now nearly 90% male.
Squash’s biggest issue, however, may be the closure of public courts. More and more leisure operators are replacing under-used squash courts, which take up a lot of space and are typically only booked during peak times, with more flexible and profitable sports facilities.
- To address this decline England Squash and Racketball is planning a range of activity focused on getting new players into the sport and keeping more of them playing including: Headline promotions under the Big Hit brand and the creation of an online players portal
- Peak and off peak programmes that make better use of courts stock and encourage recreational occasional players who play during the day to play more often.
- A scaled-up version of the successful higher education programme that attracts students to the sport through its social and fun aspects.
- Disability initiatives with organisations including UK Deaf Sport, Mencap and Mind that make use of off-peak court capacity
- A mixture of new build and refurbishment capital investments to meet identified demand for additional courts
Quarterly participation and court-usage surveys will monitor the results of this work and check the governing body’s progress against agreed targets and milestones.
Sport England’s Director of Sport Lisa O’Keefe said: “On the world stage, squash is an incredibly successful sport for this country. Of course we want that success to continue but England Squash and Racketball needs to prove it can be equally successful at a grassroots level. The sport will only thrive if we can get more people picking up a racquet more often.”