Thursday, February 9, 2023

MILLMAN: Squash’s perfect storm could herald major changes

By RICHARD MILLMAN, Squash Mad Columnist


“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” – Deepak Chopra

Every so often a perfect storm manifests itself. When it does, those in its path must first scramble for survival and then, if they are lucky enough to survive, they must put back together the pieces of their lives.

Occasionally when this happens, the rebuilt version is a more complete, more worthy, more thoughtful evolution of the pre-storm situation. Particularly if the people doing the rebuild think things through carefully. So let’s examine the wreckage of our game after the past few weeks:

  • Failed at the Olympics.
  • The world number 1, theoretically our leading professional, has to pull out of the World Open with few, if any, support personnel.
  • No Women’s World Championships.
  • The men’s World No.2 is kept out of bed most of the night for a drug test and is a shadow of himself in the World Championship final.
  • The PSA supremo is embroiled in all sorts of allegations, a total embarrassment for the sport.
  • The WSA is criticised publicly and has doubt called upon their ability to grow the women’s game, all this at a time when participation figures are dwindling in the UK.
  • Major TV networks express their disinclination to televise the game due to the confusion that the current refereeing and lack of understanding of lets has created.
  • Borja Golan and Greg Gaultier play a match in Qatar that perfectly makes the TV companies’ and many other commentators’ points.
  • The PSA and WSA World Series Finals are postponed seven weeks before they are due to take place in London.

Today´s news

And now, Pakistan, once the greatest squash nation on the planet has seen its collapse from the heights and its reputation descend even further with the news that their juniors have been banned from the British Junior Open – just weeks after the Pakistan Junior Open was cancelled because of widespread cheating from players lying about their age. How much lower can the game sink?

This, I would suggest is the epitome of a perfect storm.

As with any storm, however, light does shine through in places: US Squash has led the way with equal prize money for men and women. The PSA stood up and declared its support for this forward-thinking maneouvre, as did leading players such as Nick Matthew and James Willstrop.

There is possibly more healthy discussion about the sport than ever before and all interested parties are putting serious thought into the way forward. The AJ Bell World Championship was a marquee event and, the problems with drug testing notwithstanding, was an unmitigated success. Is the storm coming to a close?

Hard to say. If we see more of the Golan versus Gaultier type of match then it is difficult to see an end. What is needed is firm leadership. But who has the combination of respect, understanding, authority and power to help squash pick up the pieces?

Will the interested parties simply stand by and allow their understandable self-interest as they struggle to survive to be the determining factor?

Currently the most visible portion of squash is the televised portion and mainly the PSA at that. Here we have a problem. The players are mainly young, ambitious, physically and technically elite almost to the point of superhuman capacity, with limited experience of deductive reasoning.

The world’s leading squash players are capable of making automatic decisions at light speed, that few other human beings are capable of , and yet few of them, in my humble opinion, are actually aware enough of precisely how they do what they do to be able explain the logic of the game of squash.

My experience is that often, when you ask players how they think they play or what they think they do, the explanation they give is more a reflection of what they have heard elsewhere from one of their early coaches or of generally accepted wisdom than of what they themselves do.

The majority of the conscious, audible comments and opinions that we hear are based on gut feeling or even on advice given and received in the past but not deeply analysed, or frequently are the opinions of sheer domineering personalities attempting to force their opinions on others.

One or two players, such as James Willstrop, have taken time to reflect, but even here there is little interest or opportunity for players to take time to help the game evolve.

And, of course, one might ask why should players like James or his peers try to contribute toward the evolution of the game? It’s hard enough for them just to train and play.

So what is to become of squash? How do we build something better from this wreckage.

I have some suggestions. But these suggestions need to be deeply considered and not simply given a peremptory glance and then cast aside. If a thing is worth doing it’s worth doing well. In my opinion the problem is that we don’t currently have a cohesive leadership that can effect real change for good.

  • We have the WSF (World Squash Federation) with limited financial resources but with the good of the game at heart.
  • We have PSA – incredible talent, limited resources, understandably huge self interest.
  • We have PST – tiny, good ideas, black sheep and not currently welcome at the PSA table.
  • We have SDA and WSDA – doing a great job for their members and producing a great product for a very rich, small niche clientele, and hardly even known outside of that environment.
  • We have WSA – incredible talent, even more limited resources, understandably stretched with their own self interest.
  • We have promoters and sponsors, with a great deal of experience, again understandable self-interest, but perhaps the best perspective of all.
  • We have NGB’s with their own agendas and local pressures.
  • We have referees – with almost no resources, volunteering for the good of the game, but rarely (we do have a few really great refs! ) with enough understanding of the sport to be able to properly adjudicate.
  • We have the squash media – barely scraping a living and sometimes operating with their hands tied behind their backs because they have to tow the line of their major financial contributors.
  • We have recreational players – no voice , lots of self interest, but lots of support too.
  • We have the coaching community, who perhaps spend more time thinking about squash than anyone else.

I am a very small voice, but I am a voice and some of what I have to say has the support of a number of other small, but thoughtful voices. I do not say for a moment that my suggestions should be adopted in a wholesale fashion.

I do think that they should be considered, along with those of others who take the time to think through what they are saying and who have spent years and years in developing those thoughts. First – all parties need to spend some time considering the logic of the game. And not just a few minutes in passing. Long hours of serious exploration.

What is the primary goal of squash? What is the primary goal of life? The answer to both questions is, of course : To Survive. Before anyone jumps to conclusions based on language, let me be clear.

To survive means to succeed. In conclusion, the saying goes ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man.’ I submit that our hour is indeed come. Who will step up to clear the wreckage and lead us into a bright new day? Or will those that have the ability to affect change simply wait and see what happens.

Sometimes we need to take courage in both hands and plough on forward. Who will take up the cause of Squash’s future?



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  1. Shame about the padding at the start of this article which could put some off from reading on to the meaty bits which is an excellent piece, thought provoking, but is it enough to stir action.

    I, like many don’t have the answers but I suspect the person / organisation who takes our sport forward is not yet known in the wider circles of squash. Chatting with Chris vine last weekend there is a vast pool of skills and resources, (not just players and coaches) but deep thinkers with real ideas, get them in a room with no commercial agenda, let’s see what transpires.


  2. Very nice summary of the situation, Richard. There has indeed been a series of bad hits lately for the sport. Two things I keep coming back to when I think of these things: First, there is a tendency to put former high-level pros into managerial positions at organizations, and I have news for you, managerial expertise and skill at a sport are not often included together in the same package. Squash needs excellence at running a sporting organization, not excellence at the trickle boast! Second, the sport needs world-class salesmen. There are a lot of positive things to discuss when talking to a potential sponsor of an event, but the sponsorships either do not materialize at all or are at embarrassingly small levels. Salesmanship is the transfer of enthusiasm; we who are reading this have that enthusiasm. We need to transfer that to corporate sponsors.

  3. I agree that now is the PERFECT time for change in the squash community. All of the entities listed in your article should, as Martin suggests, get together for a weekend and “re-invent” our sport for the masses.

    I was never more proud and honored to be considered a squash professional than when I saw the Olympic Presentation and what we had to bring to the table: a valiant, articulate, compelling story told despite forgone conclusion to the judgement. That effort needs to go to the next level to galvanize our sport into a world-wide phenomenon that attracts and transfixes players/spectators/sponsors because of the health & wellness aspects, the compelling competitiveness at all levels, and the sheer fun and camaraderie of a world-wide squash community.

    Many new suggestions came out of the Olympic rejection, including some that greatly intrigued me and I would heartily support and champion (scoring change to game/set/match like tennis to discourage “tanking,” let/stroke progression like a series of fouls in basketball (once you accumulate 5 “fouls,” a point is awarded for each subsequent foul and in the run-up to 5 fouls, the “stroke” situation is worth a 2-point foul, etc.). BUT, the point is get representatives together to do more than talk about all this, but implement world wide and take the public by storm with a professional sport that they can play.

  4. Absolutely! This is why I have been trying to encourage NGBs to develop a Diploma in Sports Program Direction (DipSPD) .
    There is a wonderful career pathway available for young people looking for a sports career in the sales, marketing,development, maintenance, growth and animation of Squash programs. This is a separate but complementary role to that of a coach – who in turn is totally dependent on the SPD for new participants. Coaches are taught how to pass on skills not how to bring in and retain participants. This is not their skill set or role. And yet antiquated thinking in the NGBs of our sport continues to see level one coach after coach spewed out to teach – well whom exactly? Until we have a serious program development arm of each NGB we will continue to see declining numbers and frustrated new coaches abandoning coaching and even the sport.
    And in case anyone in the US thinks to themselves ‘ well our participation numbers are OK’ – remember that continuing to churn out coaches without teaching anyone how to develop programs is tantamount to the old definition of madness – doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.
    For anyone that is interested I am going to publish an outline of a possible DipSPD on

  5. I think there’s near universal agreement that squash isn’t in a good place right now, and your list of the different parties involved in the game is valuable, but beyond that I’m finding this article confusing.

    You explain at length that elite players lack deductive reasoning. How is this relevant to the larger issues you’ve raised? In any sport you’ll find great performers who aren’t good at describing the nuances of what they do. I don’t see how this is part of squash’s problem.

    You go on to say you have suggestions that merit serious consideration, but … where are the suggestions? Are they in this story but I somehow just can’t discern them? Is there a Part 2 to the story where you reveal your ideas?

    With that said, I appreciate that you’re calling attention to the problems squash is facing. The sense I’m getting as a player and a fan of the game is that the people now in charge aren’t going to be the agents of change. It’s going to take new leadership to shake things up. I hope the leaders are out there, somewhere….

  6. There is indeed a Part 2 coming shortly.

    The deductive reasoning part is simple.

    Players behavior during performance is automatic.
    But they are rarely capable of describing exactly what they do and frequently when asked to describe the way they play the explanation bares little resemblance to the actuality. In fact the descriptions often are more likely to be closer to what they believe ought to be done than what they actually do. And what they think ought to be done is often just a paraphrasing of advice from a coach or repetition of what accepted wisdom says.
    The problem comes when the players start attempting to ‘think’ their way through lets and strokes.
    They ‘think’ that they should be able to finish their shot before they move. Actually none of the top players finish their shot before they move – unless they are exhausted – because if they did they would never be in position ready to cover all the opponent’s possible shots before the opponent hit the ball. They would always be behind instead of ahead.
    But try and have that conversation with a player mid match and suddenly the player will start trading opinions about what ‘should’ happen. Since most players are unaware of the subtleties of what they actually do and since most commonly accepted wisdom is very different from how the game is actually played and since the rules as written are illogical in large part and since the difference between lets and strokes are unbelievably marginal – we really don’t have a cat in hell’a chance of a non squash playing viewer or tv exec understanding what the blazes is going on.
    As a simple proof of this: Most Squash coaches teach right handed players that they should hit with their left foot toward the ball on the forehand side. Anyone that bothers to spend an hour watching PSA tv and counting right foot versus left foot usage will discover that anyone who plays the game at any decent level uses their right foot about 97% of the time.
    And yet all over the world coaches and players tell people to use the right foot. If you weren’t a Squash player and someone told you that you should hit off the left foot and then you watched the stars in action – what would you think? You’d think ‘ these people have no idea of what they are doing’ and you’d be right. They don’t know what they are doing even though what they are doing is damn near superhuman and majestical.
    The players don’t analyze what they actually do – they play by feel. The refs don’t understand the game – they make judgements based on popular wisdom – which isn’t how the game is played. And unless the coaches watch very carefully on tape and break everything down frame by frame and have the courage to challenge the good old British basic level one understanding of Squash which dates back to prehistoric times, they are just regurgitating stuff that their own coach told them thirty years ago. The few coaches that have the courage of their own convictions ( perhaps Hadrian Stiff or Roger Flynn might be those sort of people) have to work so hard to fight off criticism for going against the old school it nearly destroys them unless they are lucky enough to break through.
    What does this all mean? It means that until everyone commits to thinking for themselves and questioning the status quo – we are stuck where we are – with Gaultier vs Golan in Qatar and with an endless conveyor belt of level one coaches taught stuff that isn’t the way the game is played trying to pass it on to an audience that isn’t there.
    If anyone is passionate about this please spend some time watching top class squash in slow motion and analyse what the players are doing moment by moment in relation to the ball and each other. I’ve been thinking about this for nearly four decades. I noticed that right handed players used the right foot almost exclusively in the late eighties. When I mentioned this at an England Panel Tutors conference I was summarily dismissed.
    But I haven’t given up and I have helped many players to national and international victories.
    The game evolves – why can’t the administration, teaching, development and regulation of it follow its example?

    • When you are forced to leave the T, you are almost always under pressure. Therefore, you will always use your strongest leg to get yourself out of trouble. You do this without thinking because you are trying to survive a rally!
      One big problem I see with the calling of a match is that squash is the only sport in which the players are allowed to stop play.
      Maybe there is a middle ground here. But, what about a whistle from the ref to stop play? I know, you say too dangerous. But add the flagrant foul for dangerous play. Think Basketball…… The thing is, that anyone who plays and has reffed a match has come across situations where they would love to call a “no let”, but wont because of the pressure from the culture. Play the Ball!
      I think this idea would cause players to take different paths to the ball. If someone doesn’t clear(even blocks) or hits the ball back to themselves, the ball is un-hitable and therefore a whistle would be blown and a point would be awarded to the other player. FYI, I’m not the only one who has thought of this……..
      Drastic measures are possible!

  7. So if I’m reading you right, you’re making three points:

    — PSA players are asking for lets based misinterpretations of their own movement patterns. That’s an interesting point, but I think it’s just a subset of the more general phenomenon of players asking for lets whenever they feel they have a prayer of getting a call in their favor, regardless of the reason.

    — Refs are making decisions based on antiquated notions of how the game is played rather than what’s happening on the court. That sounds legitimate for less experienced refs, but in the case of the top guys officiating pro matches (e.g., John Mazarella, Mike Riley) I think you may be selling them short. I also think you may be overanalyzing. Sometimes refs just make poor decisions because they aren’t thinking clearly or quickly enough. In the case of the notorious Gaultier-Golan match the greatest sin was inconsistency, along with one or two instances plain old stupidity.

    — The rules themselves are based on antiquated notions of how the game is played. That, it seems to me, is your most striking idea, and really at the root of the previous two points. Diagnosing the problem is a great start, but of course the bigger challenge is coming up with a cure. I hope your suggestions in Part 2 include rules revisions. You could really be on to something.

    As far as hitting off the right or left foot, I think you’re fighting a winning battle. Mike Way’s coaching videos, which have been around for a decade now and are considered the gold standard among the club players I run with, drive home the same point about either foot being correct. You’re definitely not alone, and you have common sense on your side.

  8. Jeff and New York Nick – thanks for these comments. With your positive and constructive thinking I think the whole community can progress. I think and hope you will find Part 2 very interesting based on your feedback so far.
    Thanks again and please keep stimulating more thoughtful debate!
    PS I am a huge Mike Riley fan and respect John Mazarella – but all of us should be doing meaningful research and development – which needs careful analysis and study – see part 2!

  9. – In one of your comments Richard, you stole my line i.e. administrators / people who run the game of squash CANNOT continue doing the SAME thing over and over, and expect different results!! A bit of lateral thinking is required. A suggestion:- (especially on the local scene) when squash gets some airtime on TV, don’t always insist that the match between the top two players ought to be the one showcased! Rather show that wonderfully entertaining match between the no.5’s… you know… the one that had the players continually scurrying from corner to corner, diving to retrieve, not always asking for lets, etc etc, which is more likely to make the armchair enthusiast sit up and take notice. Isn’t THAT (greater TV audience!) what squash wants? And needs?
    – Not much wrong with the rules. Just change the interpretation somewhat. Too many lets for minimal interference, and we need THIS aspect to change! Suggestions?
    – A lot said about right foot/left foot… Whilst I agree totally about “either foot will do”, I feel this applies more to a reasonably accomplished player. I’d like to hear arguments regarding the learner squash player…? Most learners I find are soooo LOOSE because they’re not squaring their shoulders, and isn’t the best and easiest way to square one’s shoulders to play the forehand with the left foot forward???
    – Lastly… regarding the “let” issue… I feel players ought to start taking more responsibility and play as if it’s either a ‘stroke’, or a “no let”!!!!

  10. I think there are some interesting ideas in here although there are large parts of assumption and teleological diagnosis that sadly render many of the points inert.
    First point – the PSA is an organisation that HAS undergone radical change. The number of broadcasters taking live squash over the last three years has grown. Fact. There are veritable statistics to this effect. Large UK broadcasters such as Sky and the BBC have now begun to welcome squash back into the fold, not to mention broadcasters with the pedigree of ESPN, Star, Astro and Eurosport.
    To view the reception of the game without taking into context the global reach is naieve. Entities like Squash TV have managed through diligent hard work and professionalism brought the CONSISTENT level of production up. It is this consistency that will define what TV execs will take. I should know, I am one.
    The Gaultier/Golan match was a hit for TV. Like it or not you are falling foul to your own claims of operating on common sense wisdom. There was a lot of niggle, therefore it must have been bad. It was actually one of the most popular matches of our broadcast and generated the most interest in to the characters within the game, sparked debate.
    I think we are all in agreement that squash put together a compelling and rounded bid for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, sadly the Olympic committee were left with a situation where they were going to possibly eject a core sport. Was never going to happen.
    Some home truths to squash as a whole, to those that support it and those that spend much time sitting on the sidelines throwing muck like angry chimpanzees…
    Whilst the uptake in the amateur game is high the interest in the pro game isn’t. It doesn’t directly correlate. Playing the game and settling down to watch the ‘big match’ isn’t as wide spread as we would like to believe it is.
    As a result there is little income into the professional side of the sport from the consumer. Therefore sponsors have less incentive to inject their cash to a limited market.
    There is an old school within squash that is slowly lifting up it’s head to look outside of it’s own perimeters but while tournament organisers at the top level treat TV broadcast as a nuisance rather than as the biggest audience their event will generate then there will always be a conflict in interest.
    In my opinion, for what ever it is worth, is that squash as commercial entity needs more solidity and reliability in it’s events. It needs to not rely on rich individuals to act as a benefactor. A tour sponsor would help alleviate this to a small degree but we need a strong reliable calender of events. Preferably for TV a World Series that runs from August to May with the WSF just before the summer break.
    Regular events on that World Series that take place every year at the top level (losing the Australian Open from the WS was a blow), a large event in mainland Europe is needed at WS level.
    All of a sudden we have a TV product with predictable dates and destinations that has an ultimate outcome (World Series Finals) that actually adds a full stop to a season not just a comma whilst we roll straight onto the next year’s events.
    I know as a broadcaster that’s a product I want to buy because I can rely on it, I can schedule it and I can have a narrative that runs over the year, not just event by event all run individually for individual gains.
    As for the WSA, it has some great ideas, some great players but alone they are drowning a little. A united PSA and WSA would provide a strong front and promote both games as after all, we all love squash, doesn’t matter what gender. The loss of events is sad but do not blame the federations. They are battling in a world still feeling a recession, a squash event is expensive and hard to organise at the top level. Because let’s face it, we’re all talking about the top level.
    Nobody has moaned about the increase in coverage of smaller events, giving hardcore fans greater access to seeing their favourite players on the internet. The prolific increase in additional materials such as interviews and features etc. has added a new level of accessibility.
    Don’t ever forget about economics, who pays? Where does the money come from ultimately? The PSA is run as a pretty tight ship as far as I can see, there is very little flagrant wastes of money or resources…they aren’t able to with the budget they have to run on. So I think consideration has to go to those currently at the top (whatever your personal opinion on them is) and think where was the PSA when they came in and what will their legacy be? They may or may not be the ones to take it the next level but don’t underestimate their achievements. You wouldn’t be seeing ANY squash if it wasn’t for their endeavour.
    I have to admit, I’m just not a fan of the PST at all. Like it or not, they haven’t got any where near the best players, the prize money is a joke and sadly their level of broadcast/streaming is taking squash back several steps. Outsiders don’t see the divides, they see squash and I feel the negative publicity generated by the PST (and in reaction the PSA) makes the game look petty and incapable of solving infighting. Which is actually not the case.
    If you cannot see the obvious reason for PSA not allowing their players into another tour then it beggars belief. NBA do not allow their players to go and play Euroleague during a season or a contract, this is a tour you sign up to, make a living from and players know that when they sign up. It’s only the fringe players way down in the rankings or those who cannot compete at the top level any more that are even considering PST. THAT is a bigger turn off than anything the PSA has put on the table. If it were a viable product more players would have defected. They haven’t.
    Change is not always good. Sometimes consistency through the hard times leads to a stronger ship the other side of the storm. The crew have weathered it and gained all that experience. To call for heads straight away is to lose that experience and add someone else in that you can’t know will do a better job. Patience, let hard work flourish or end up being like lazy Premier League Football club owners that never get out of mid table. Alex Ferguson could have been sacked early on in his Manchester United career and look what he achieved with a large dose of faith.

  11. just a few observations most immediate from all those whirling round my head reading this intelligent forum:

    Any contentiousness displayed sporadically perfectly illustrated throughout the Gaultier/Golan match is not something that will capture the public imagination like MacEnroe and Connors did in their day.This needs sorting.

    I recently watched the best two players in a masters event fighting out the over 35 title so they were the two best players in the event. The match was a terrible showcase where one player stayed quiet but is known to crowd his opponent’s stroke and the other was voluble continually but was mainly responsible for the traffic problem since he insisted in taking the line back to the tee that his opponent needed to take in accessing his next shot.

    Mainly the traffic problem is solved because most players are well meaning and the handshake at the end is a true reflection of sentiment in that both players recognise they have been allowed to fairly contest the match by the other and by the referee.

    This match as far as I can see was ungovernable under the current refereeing rules. Interesting that the players were both aged over 40 so it lends credibility to my mind that by cheating you will prosper.

    We all say to our mates how we would have handled it but mostly when we mark we rely on the goodwill of the players especially if they are of a standard difficult for you to comprehend! The referee in this case was qualified and brought in specially and even so was floundering and by being there almost made the situation worse.

    What is needed is a sort of emergency procedure in refereeing. For example almost immediately to state out loud in front of the crowd and players that you know what they’re both up to(many people advise a quiet word with one or both players but that somehow legitimises their behaviour and gives the impression that they will be doing you a favour if they play in the spirit of things).

    Then to go on to warn them both that for the next few rallies they will be treated as fair players and lets and points will follow within the normal parameters. Should the stalemate remain then their dastardly intentions should then be penalised in the inevitable form of a stroke awarded to the opponent.

    If there is another way of dealing with it the qualified referee didn’t use it allowing the bitterness to hang in the air throughout unpleasant to the whole audience who were wondering if physical violence was imminent.

    Obviously a similar sort of thing occured between Gaultier and Golan and that wasn’t sorted either.There are any number of rules covering injury but not much clarity in the event of persistent baulking.

    I do understand that at the top level as in football and tennis concessions are made to the status of the event. Therefore the sponsors would not be happy if a high profile player is penalised out of the match effectively giving their opponent a walkover. It is undeniably a difficult area

  12. I am fascinated and we all should be by Jack Bou’s comment. He obviously understands the commercial aspects of the problem and I will reread his remarks several times to make sure I’ve understood and properly compared his remarks to my own thoughts and prejudices.

    Obviously he disagrees with my remark about Gaultier/Golan and on reflection when I took my stage show to Brighton Fringe one of the remarks made by our hosts was to get some sort of notoriety in attempting to catch the public eye!

    Perhaps we can get the Gough incident(where he complains about the referee saying that such things are the reason squash didn’t get into the Olympics)on Youtube. Maybe it would go viral then who knows!

  13. I think it’s fair to say that Jack Bou has given us the company line from PSA. He only argues against status quo in two instances, and in both cases at their root the comments reflect the interests of the PSA:

    — He says “we need a strong reliable calendar of events,” which is obviously true — the recent decline in events has been the biggest failure for both the PSA and WSA. But the implication seems to be that responsibility for this rests with the event organizers. He complains that tournaments currently are “all run individually for individual gains,” which sounds very much like the complaint of a tour organizer who has failed to get his tour organized.

    — He says the World Series Final should be moved to “just before the summer break.” You could take that as a criticism of the Gough administration, because that’s the way the schedule used to work before Gough changed it. But more immediately what we’re getting is a way for Gough to buy time. If he can manage to pull together a WSF in May it will help him save face after the cancelation of the January event.

    The emphasis on TV in Bou’s comment reflects the current PSA’s priorities — and the focus on British TV demonstrates one of the shortcomings of the PSA being such a Brit-centric organization. The criticism of the PST and finally the explicit endorsement of the Gough regime make it clear that, if this comment didn’t come directly from the offices of the PSA, it might as well have.

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