Squash’s Gladiatorial and Athletic Skills Can Finally Lead to Olympics Inclusion in 2020, Says Bid Guru Mike Lee
If squash had joined the party at London 2012, Team GB’s golden tally would surely have hit the 30-medal mark, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew, the world No 1 and 2 respectively, would have been vying for gold and Yorkshire would be celebrating more success, with both players based in Leeds and Sheffield.
Squash, to the surprise of many, has fought a long battle to be included on to the Olympic programme. At an International Olympic Committee meeting in Singapore in 2005 it was one of two sports put forward for London 2012 after baseball and softball where ejected from the Games.
However, squash and karate failed to obtain the IOC’s two-thirds majority vote which left the Olympic programme still standing at 26 sports. The IOC amended its controversial 2004 charter for the Rio 2016 vote where only a single majority was deemed necessary, but golf and rugby sevens were given the nod. The IOC said at the time the two sports were more “commercially viable”.
Now, squash chiefs have turned to bid guru Mike Lee to finally end the sport’s final fence hic-cups. Lee, who has masterminded several notable bid successes including London 2012, Rio 2016 and Qatar’s World Cup in 2020, believes it is time the sport shaped up and cast past failings aside.
“They [World Squash] were aware of a number of mega bids we did,” he told Telegraph Sport, “and it was clear that they recognised that they needed a much more professional campaign.
“I firmly believe squash will be a great Olympic sport. It is a sport which will bring new countries to the medal podium [likely to include Malaysia and Egypt]. It is gladiatorial, truly athletic and played to fantastic levels of fitness. It’s a game of great strategy.
“What we bring is a combination of winning campaigns, how we structure and integrate it and how we put the bid themes together.”
With one year to go until the IOC executive vote in Buenos Aires, squash is now one of the leading candidates to land the one new sport on offer for the 2020 Games. Squash’s rivals? Baseball and softball (in a joint bid), climbing, wushu (Chinese martial art), karate, roller sports and surfing.
“You just can’t predict the outcome from this far out,” said Lee. “We are still early on in the process and squash has been campaigning over a quite considerable amount of time with previous applications. But we are ahead of the other sports promoting themselves.”
The sport – around 30,000 players globally are likely to take part in World Squash Day next Saturday – has certainly upped its commercial game in recent years.
A professional TV outfit produces high-definition and four-corner coverage of the professional tour, a world away from the one-camera position that initiated squash’s downfall on the BBC. Innovative glass floors and on-court lighting have also enhanced viewing.
However, squash still has a considerable mountain to climb. Not least with the battle to compete against those sports seen at the London Olympics. Thanks to the success of the Games, a channel called London Legacy, dedicated to minority sports, is due to be launched on BSkyB by a Yorkshire TV production company.
Squash’s own coverage, Lee says, hinges on “where medallists are energising a country of national heroes.” It’s a sobering thought when you consider that Britain – thanks to the success of Willstrop and Matthew – has churned out victory after victory on the world tour over the last two years.