The Blog

Squashed Unfairly in the Olympic Bid

Squash - just an old man's game, isn't it? That's the common refrain I get - or I sense people are thinking but too polite to say - when I mention that I play, watch or - as I'm now starting to do - report on the game.

Squash - just an old man's game, isn't it? That's the common refrain I get - or I sense people are thinking but too polite to say - when I mention that I play, watch or - as I'm now starting to do - report on the game.

This came to mind recently when I was lucky enough to get press accreditation for the World Squash Championships - the biggest event in squash.

Does this look like your typical 'old man's game'? It certainly surprised my brother and a friend - both sports fans but with only a passing knowledge of and interest in squash - who came along for two quarter-final nights.

My brother sent a similar photo to his girlfriend, who occasionally plays squash with him, and he got the reply: 'That's not what I expected!' (Presumably she expected little more than a poky court in a leisure centre).

Which is the point I want to make. It's a shame squash gets so little in mainstream press, because, anecdotally, there is a big nascent interest in the game, in addition to the considerable concrete interest in the it worldwide (estimates range between around 15 million and 30 million players over 147 to 185 countries).

I wrote a similar piece to this earlier this year, claiming the sport deserves a bigger profile and Olympic inclusion could help this, but I think it bears repeating after the recent decision to reinstate wrestling as an Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020 instead of accept squash.

Obviously in the squash world, people were not best pleased at this, the sport's third straight unsuccessful Olympic bid. But I've heard and sensed the reaction was not too dissimilar from the sport world in general. That's certainly the case in the comments below the linked BBC article.

Admittedly, this Inside The Game poll does (to my surprise) show significantly more support for wrestling than squash (42.2% to 32%), but there is more support for squash than the other five sports combined.

And squash has not just lost out to wrestling in Olympic but, in the bid for the 2016 Olympics, golf and rugby sevens.

It may sound churlish and petty to compare the relative sporty-ness of sports, but since such a consideration - along with commercial viability and prospective boost to the sport - is what the Olympic process involves, this is what I am going to do.

Rugby sevens is exciting and - I can only imagine from my few not particularly successful encounters with rugby - physically very demanding. But it is by no means the most popular, well-regarded form of rugby; more of an entertaining sideshow. Nor is it really the most tense and dramatic of sports. Think of gladiatorial sporting battles and do any of the sevens form of rugby really spring to mind.

But rugby sevens looks like a fantastic choice next to golf! When the ancient Egyptians invented the Olympics as an epic test of mind, body and soul - a contest of faster, better, stronger - did they really envision portly 40-somethings driving or strolling around some gardens swinging around a glorified stick, carried by their little helper?!

Suffice to say, I'm not a fan of golf. But on a serious note, I do appreciate it's a game of immense skill and strategy. But it's one with a very successful and popular professional circuit already; it simply does not need the Olympic spotlight. And, from what I've heard from friends and media, it does not even particularly want it.

This is in addition to many other sports which were already in the Olympics despite doubts about their inclusion - football (bit of a joke tournament) synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics (are they even 'sports'?), BMX (do people do this over the age of 15?), dressage ('horse dancing?!'), and beach volleyball ('just an excuse for porn').

And as a direct comparison, each of the other three main racket sports - tennis, badminton and table tennis - are Olympic sports, despite tennis, like golf, arguably being big enough already and table tennis being, let's face it, basically a youth club activity.

Squash can be a gladiatorial battle of body and mind - a combination of speed strategy and skill.

Indeed, after his recent third World Championship win in Manchester, Nick Matthew said that the physical element is obvious to anyone in the crowd, but that what is not so immediately obvious is that "mental torment, that mental chess".

Granted, squash is not the biggest or most commercial sport, but it is really pushing forward in this regard.

The widespread consensus is that, after a long history of management and televisual failures, the game is making great strides in broadcasting the game, with cameras now often placed in all four corners for slow-motion replays, in addition to the main camera.

And, being effectively played in a box, which can be built anywhere with a small amount of space fairly quickly, squash is played in some of truly amazing venues, including Hong Kong's harbour, San Francisco Bay, Grand Central Station and, most spectacularly, when Egypt hosted the World Championships, the Pyramids of Giza.

Before You Go