Saturday, February 24, 2024

US Squash chief declares war on racquetball

The CEO of US Squash has vowed to “quickly and aggressively” cannibalise America’s racquetball courts in order to grow participation in squash.

In a statement on the US Squash website, Kevin Klipstein publicly declared war on the real estate of a fellow racket sport. Using pickleball’s current threat to tennis as an example, he served warning to racquetball of his intention to mount a similar “takeover of an existing player base and court inventory.”

Klipstein wrote: “Racquetball once did the same thing to handball, and now squash to racquetball. 14,000 racquetball courts (down from a peak of more than 30,000) are quickly disappearing or being repurposed. 

“About one-third of our existing 3,500 squash courts are actually converted racquetball courts; moving quickly and aggressively on this front could be critical to our success.” 

Mike Grisz, Executive Director of USA Racquetball, declined to comment directly on Klipstein’s statement when contacted by Squash Mad.

He did, however, say pointedly: “While USA Racquetball is not offering a response at present, we remain open, as always, to collaborate with our fellow national and international governing bodies in the spirit of strengthening court sports. ‘None of us is as good as all of us.’”

A glass racquetball court

Although it has not previously been stated quite so explicitly, US Squash’s attack on racquetball’s infrastructure is nothing new. Since 2014, the governing body has operated a Racquetball Conversion Fund, offering grants of $1000 per court towards projects seeking to convert racquetball courts into squash courts. Once converted and opened, US Squash then waives its facility affiliate fees for the courts for the first year. 

The US Squash website provides details of the court conversion process and lists 13 facilities (38 courts in total) to which the conversion fund has successfully contributed.

US Squash’s open threat comes at a time of crisis for racquetball’s governing body. Last November they were forced to ask for public donations after membership fell by half to just under 5,000 following the pandemic – causing a drop in membership revenue of $125,000. 

Its six national championship tournaments in 2022 operated at a loss of $170,000, with the US Open particularly costly – so much so that this year’s event has been pushed back to May 2024.

US Squash’s hostile approach contrasts with the cordial welcome given to Squash 57 (known more commonly in the UK as ‘racketball’) at the 3WallBall Outdoor Racquetball Championships in Las Vegas in October. 

The 3WallBall Championships in Las Vegas last October

Squash 57 took its place alongside racquetball, handball and paddleball as rebound racket sports were played side-by-side in a weekend-long competition in the car park of the giant Strat Hotel. Pro racquetball players tried out Squash 57 and professed a desire for more unity and cooperation between the disciplines.

Tim Baghurst, co-organiser of the event, said: “Until egos can be left at the door and somebody persuades all these sports to converge under one umbrella, the International Olympic Committee are going to regard us all individually as one very expensive enterprise that interests relatively few people. 

“It is frustrating when there is potential for partnership that would move all disciplines forward.” 

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  1. “Racquetball once did the same thing to handball”

    Completely inaccurate. They’re both played on the exact same court dimensions (40x20x20). Racquetball merely presented as an easier and more enjoyable court sport on existing facilities.

    Why exactly would Squash want to purposely hurt a fellow court sport? This approach makes zero sense. Racquetball, Squash, Paddleball, Handball, Wallyball; all these sports working together can retain these courts instead of watching them get converted to Spin studios. Why not be collaborative instead of antagonistic?

  2. Hi Mike, it’s Kevin Klipstein. It’s odd you contacted USA Racquetball yet didn’t reach out to me. We’re not declaring war on anything, and anyone who knows me or US Squash understands that we work collaboratively, and consider all racquet sports as close cousins. The idea that we would wish any ill on racquetball in the U.S. is manufactured by your headline. Yes, courts, whether racquetball or squash, are always at risk of being repurposed. Participation in racquetball has been on the decline for years. We can work together to save those spaces for racquet sports, which, for example, is why one popular solution in the U.S. is to create a movable back wall on a racquetball court that pushes forward 8 feet to create appropriate dimensions for playing squash too. A tin is added to the front wall manually, and lines for both sports are on the floor. It doesn’t serve either sport if racquetball courts in the U.S. are converted to a non-racquet sport use, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent. I’d be happy to discuss further at any point.

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