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Joel Durston Headshot

Squash's Olympic Hurdle

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UK Sport caused uproar in many quarters recently with its unforgiving approach to Olympic funding, which saw four sports have all their Rio 2016 funding cut, leading many to claim the organisation completely threw away the much-trumpeted 'Olympic legacy'.

I don't want to discuss the merits or deficiencies of this policy - that's another debate - nor to diminish the efforts of the sportsmen involved, but at least they had some goal to have funding for.

Squash has no Olympic funding from UK Sport, because, despite great efforts, it is still not an Olympic sport - something most in the sport consider a travesty.

As such, squash receives no UK sport funding. It is true Sport England recently announced it - together with sister sport racketball - will receive up to a sizable £13.5m over the next four years.

When interviewed on this, Joe Magor, Kent County Men's Captain and Kent SRA Tournament Officer, said: "England Squash & Racketball have done a great job securing funding and helping out county associations with information on several funding schemes to build squash or grassroots levels and to build communities around squash, and this boost in funding will no doubt help."

However, all Olympic sports receive such finance in addition to any Olympic funding (a reason why the four aforementioned Olympic sports were given no UK Sport funding).

The money is certainly welcome, but what squash would really benefit from is the exposure and glamour afforded by the Olympics, just as UK cycling has grown not only through funding, great training and individual brilliance, but through being promoted to mainstream TV channels and sports supplement front pages.

For all the plaudits Andy Murray has been (rightly) getting for reaching finals recently, Brits Nick Matthew and fierce rival James Willstrop - after Sunday no. 2 and 3 respectively (Willstrop dropping from no. 1) - have been reaching, and winning, international finals for around a decade.

On the Olympics and getting "no recognition", Willstrop said: "We're English, we're sitting there in July with the world number one and two, the numbers two and three women, and there's a home Olympics - you just could not get any more depressing."

"Had we been at the Olympics and won medals you can't even imagine what that would have done for the profile of the sport."

Also, squash is great way to keep fit - with Forbes Magazine rating squash the toughest cardiovascular sport - and very well suited to modern lifestyle, being short and not weather-dependent.

The 850-plus-strong UK squash club network has a great atmosphere around it too; competitive but fun at all levels, with a culture of team squash where busy people give up time to organise, cook, transport and coach teams, and a nice culture of home teams entertaining opponents, when they congratulate and commiserate with each other. Not dissimilar from Dave Cameron's much-derided 'big society', in fact.

This is not to say squash is particularly British - being popular all over the Commonwealth and also in Europe and North America - a point made by Mr Magor in favour of Olympic inclusion.

He said: "Squash has a well-established pair of men's and women's professional tours with events over 50 countries over all the continents (except Antarctica!)"

And in some spectacular and unusual locations too, such as the forthcoming 16th Tournament of Champions.

Such points and more were raised in the Squash 2016 bid, which, despite much IOC praise, was ultimately unsuccessful - with golf and rugby sevens the chosen winners.

Yet many people's suspicion is that golf and rugby sevens were chosen largely for their commercial interests - a point argued by George Mieras, WSF Olympic Bid Co-ordinator, in a letter to Olympic officials.

He referred to President Rogge's statement that golf and rugby sevens would "bring extra value to the games" (his emphasis), and claims none of the other bidding sports could match these two sports' "potential for bringing in spectators, sponsorship and TV".

However, he added: "What this therefore represents is a significant shift on the part of the IOC, adding the need for such commercial value to the long established Olympiad criteria and ideals, which we certainly fulfilled so well."

The squash community can only hope Olympic officials change their mind for the 2020 Olympics, so this sport - brutal, exhilarating and (small 'o') olympic - gets the recognition it deserves, here and elsewhere.