By Mike Rowbottow, republished from insidethegames.biz
A decade ago, New Zealand band The Datsuns drove their profile to a high point as they made a name for themselves in Britain following an appearance on John Peel’s Radio 1 show, prompting the British music press to describe them as “the future of rock.”
That was a big claim, and one which, a decade on, The Datsuns are still trying to live up to. But in the meantime their guitarist, Phil Buscke, has another challenge on his mind – getting squash into the Olympics.
Buscke is a spectacular guitarist – but as he says himself, squash is his first love. When The Datsuns were wowing Peel and the Britons in 2002, he was training with the New Zealand squad for the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games squash tournament, and although he eventually focused on music rather than sport by joining the high-flying band, he is still a grade A player who is well within the national top 20.
Three years ago, Buscke threw himself off Auckland Harbour Bridge in full media view clutching a banner reading: “Squash 2016 – Squash & the Olympics, a perfect match.” Much as he loves the game, Buscke was not making the ultimate sacrifice in support of the sport’s bid to get into the Rio Games – he bounced back up on the thick elastic of bungee jumping equipment.
Sadly for him, and his beloved sport, no place was granted in the Olympic arena as golf and rugby sevens took the two available slots for Rio. Four years after the disappointment of missing out on the London 2012 Games, squash had been bounced out once again, it’s only Olympic experience still the tenuous one of having rackets, a precursor to the modern game of squash, included in the London Games of 1908.
As the sport rallies to seek an Olympic entrance at the third time of asking, efforts are being compounded today into World Squash Day, which will be supported by approximately 40,000 players all around the globe who will be getting on court and highlighting the manifest strengths of the case for inclusion in the Games.
Buscke, as you might expect, is doing his bit once again, and will be challenging members of the rugby union world championship-winning All Blacks to test their fitness against him on court. It looks like there will only be one winner there.
World Squash Day will be celebrated throughout Asia, with events in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
African nations taking part include Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Arab nations include Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Across north, south and central America, competing nations include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and USA.
World Squash Day activities will feature in the new men’s PSA World Tour event in San Francisco, where a 20-up College Challenge will take place on the glass court by the San Francisco waterfront between Stanford University and California University-Berkeley and University of Southern California.
European nations involved include Armenia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Wales.
Exotic island squash outposts include the Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Norfolk Island, Trinidad and Tobago, plus St Vincent and The Grenadines.
Quite honestly, isn’t that list enough in itself to secure an Olympic place?
You might think so, but the World Squash Federation (WSF) – whose membership has risen from 147 to 185 countries since its last Olympic bid – has not allowed itself the luxury of resting on any laurels as it has maintained maximum pressure within the last three years to take on board all comment and criticism from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and to strive even harder to market and popularise the sport.
The recently re-elected WSF President, N Ramachandran, has been vigorously pointing out the urgency with which is sport is courting the IOC’s favour. Among the features which have helped squash widen its fan base and increase its TV exposure is a new scoring system which allows players to take points on their opponent’s serve.
Top games now take place in all-glass demountable courts which are inexpensive and, according to the WSF, “leave no white elephant facility problems.”
As such, the courts are fully in tune with the new thinking involved in Olympic infrastructure, whereby facilities to be maintained as legacies are balanced off with those which can simply be dismantled and recycled.
President Ramachandran points out, persuasively, that the cost of including squash at the 2020 Olympics would be minimal, given that only two demountable glass show courts would be required, which could be suitably placed to highlight iconic locations in whichever city wins the Games from Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo.
The game is also experimenting with glass floors to the courts which can be lit up to display statistics and even messages from sponsors.
Squash has been part of the Commonwealth Games since 1998, and also features in the Asian, Pan American and All African Games. In February the IOC will select one current Olympic sport to be dropped from the roster, and three months later a single sport will be recommended when the IOC membership makes its final decision in Buenos Aires next September.
Will squash finally be bounced in rather than out? Its rivals this time around are a varied bunch: sports climbing, karate, the Chinese martial art of wushu, a joint softball/baseball bid, roller sports and wakeboarding.
Whatever happens, it will be too late for the world’s two leading male players – Britain’s James Willstrop and Nick Matthew, both of whom will be adding their own efforts to World Squash Day – or for the pre-eminent women’s champion Nicol David of Malaysia to harbour Olympic dreams.
Two questions are most pertinent when one considers the merits of a sport earning Olympic status. Firstly, how widespread is its appeal? Secondly, would the Olympics be regarded as the pinnacle achievement within the sport?
Many on that list of would-be Olympic sports fail on one or both counts – as indeed do some sports already safely on the Games roster. Squash ticks both boxes. QED.