Thursday 18 January 2007

Are gyms really to blame?

BBC articleAn article on the BBC website this week highlighted squash's image problems through the microcosm of the Lambs club closure.

Steve Tompkins' piece included quotes from Peter Nicol and promoter Alan Thatcher, and drew many votes of support from readers who were similarly incredulous that the sport does not receive the status it deserves. Many responses cited a drop in participation as a result of sports centres replacing squash courts with more lucrative fitness suites.

While this reason is sadly true to some extent, it does not address squash's "image problem". It would be fanciful to claim that there is a currently a fitness boom that warrants this kind of redevelopment of sports facilities: statistics about obesity and the success of tv programmes such as Jamie's School Dinners suggest that the British public (at all ages) are not exactly ditching the sofa for the treadmill en masse.

The fitness 'market'

The rising number of gym memberships in the past decade is almost certainly due to a rise in disposable income across society, though I would hazard a guess that membership does not always result in regular attendance (how many join through guilt after a weekend binge, or especially post-Christmas?). The ability to pay for expensive memberships has been successfully exploited by marketeers who recognise an increasingly image-obsessed society. Therefore blaming the existence of one physical activity/hobby for the decline of another seems misplaced.

GymAfter all, rowing machines and treadmills were around in the 1980s at the height of squash's popularity, and did not hurt squash's success then. Rather than target sports centres and developers for what are sometimes hard business decisions made in an era of extraordinarily-high property prices (although I concede that publicly-funded centres have a remit to provide access to a wide range of activities), surely those who care about the future of the sport need to look closely at how squash is marketed by contrasting it with other successful sports/pastimes. This requires a co-ordinated marketing strategy underpinned by - almost certainly - a greater injection of cash from governing bodies.

In this way we can learn something from the gym companies, rather than become simply resigned to dealing with the consequences of the decisions they make.

The BBCi article
Save Lambs


  1. very sad to hear that squash did not get a mention on the Sports Personality of the Year Awards....good luck to Nicol in the future

  2. I find it indicative of the non-competitive stance being pushed at schools and other public establishments that squash is being overrun by individual activities in gyms. About time they realised competition is healthy, and helps people find their niche.


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