Nick Matthew column: Why squash is so hurt by Games snub

Squash in Shanghai
Squash in Shanghai

Despite being played in over 180 countries by in excess of 20 million people on a regular basis, squash has been overlooked for a place in the Olympic programme once again this week.

It is the latest in a long list of snubs for my beloved sport and many people in squash, myself included, have become disillusioned with the voting system in its current format.

Squash in Grand Central Station, New York City

Squash in Grand Central Station, New York City

In the latest votes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have shortlisted baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing for possible inclusion in to Tokyo 2020.

For Beijing 2008, no new sports were added to the existing programme. Ahead of London 2012, Squash gained official Olympic recognition but still bafflingly no place in the actual Games.

For Rio 2016, golf and rugby sevens have been added to the roster whilst in the original 2020 voting, wrestling was removed from the programme before being later reinstated.

Quite clearly I am prone to bias in my pro squash views but it increasingly feels as if the IOC are constantly changing the goal posts. Let’s look at this criteria objectively and see how squash actually measures up to recently shortlisted sports:

1) Value added- Although Squash’s TV presentation has got better, it still doesn’t have the commercial power of golf or rugby sevens, and tellingly, baseball in Japan. However, squash can showcase a host city like no other sport, with iconic locations in front of Cairo’s Pyramids, New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Shanghai’s Waterfront.

2) Governance - Squash recently became the first sport to amalgamate the Men’s and Women’s governing bodies to form one Professional Squash Association. Baseball and softball are two separate sports; one played my men, one by women.

3) History and tradition - The history of squash traces back to the 1800’s and there has been a British Open, the ‘Wimbledon of Squash’, since 1930. All other racket sports are included in the Olympic programme so squash would complete the set. Surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing have never been part of the Commonwealth Games.

4) Universal appeal - There are over 50,000 Squash courts worldwide and, in recent years, we have had world champions from every continent, attracting new growth in Asia, South America, USA and Eastern Europe. It would of course be very difficult to look past traditional Commonwealth powerhouses for medals in the rugby sevens or north/latin America and Asia in baseball.

5) Popularity - More than one million people tuned in for the Commonwealth Games Men’s singles final at Glasgow 2014. It would be interesting to compare TV viewing figures to the newly shortlisted sports.

6) Athletes - The Olympics are the pinnacle for an athlete. Eight-time world champion Nicol David from Malaysia has repeatedly stated she would swap all of her world titles for an Olympic gold medal. Would a golfer choose Olympic gold over a Green Jacket?

7) Development of the sport - A major talking point here is the equality between males and females in each sport. Squash is pushing hard for equal prize money across the board and using technology more. The other key point is doping. Squash has an immaculate anti-doping record whilst baseball moves from one major drug scandal to the next. Skateboarding has a strong reputation of recreational drug use.

8) Finance - It’s crucial that the Olympics don’t bring burdening debts to the host city. Squash is a portable sport which requires minimal space and can be erected anywhere at low cost.

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