Monday 30 April 2007

New rivalries emerging

The two (unrelated) Khans dominated in the 80s and 90sGiven that predictability in other sports is a recipe for spectator turn-off, it is incongruous that, at the height of squash's participatory popularity in the 1980s, the professional game was dominated by just a couple of players - Jahangir and Jansher Khan.

Conversely, at the present time when the sport is crying out for more participants and spectators, competition in both the men's and women's professional game is stronger than ever.

Given recent results, however, it may be the case that a return to single-player dominance is on the cards.

Many believe that is is only a matter of months before the young Egyptian
prodigy Ramy Ashour will ascend to the world number one position. Recent
wins in Qatar and Kuwait (with the largest prize-purse in squash history) have established the teenager as the most exciting prospect in world squash, and significantly he has been able to immediately translate his success in the junior ranks to senior tour wins (something that others have failed to do throughout their careers).

Nicol David and Natalie Grinham have met a number of times already in 2007In the women's game, Nicol David has come good on the predictions of those who saw her destined for great things from an early age, with two World Opens already under her belt. The 24 year old from Penang has developed a rivalry with the Natalie Grinham in previous months, after a sustained challenge from Australian's older sister, Rachael.

Significantly both of these players are still relatively young. What many would like to see are great rivalries emerging early, battles fought across the work throughout long careers, a la Fitz-Gerald/Martin or Nicol/Power.

If David/Grinham are becoming the big draw on the WISPA tour, I would like to see James Willstrop - another World Junior Champion - find the greater consistency needed to challenge Ashour in major finals.

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Tuesday 24 April 2007

The 80s game due for a revival?

Yet another BBC website article this month in support of squash - this time suggesting that the "1980s game" may be due for a return to fashion.

Ashour v Palmer, Qatar 2007Matt Slater likes to champion squash's cause, and he has also posted another 606 article on the same theme for visitors to comment on.

Well done the BBC!

The BBC website article
The 606 article - have your say!

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Thursday 19 April 2007

Room Inside Sport for squash?

Gabby Logan will present the BBC's Inside SportMonday 20 April sees the launch of the BBC's new sports magazine programme Inside Sport.

With "in-depth interviews and features from a wide range of sports, and a bit of fun on your Monday night or Sunday morning", the show will be presented by Gabby Logan (newly poached from ITV).

Promising to cover "minority sport", squash fans will be hoping that their sport gets a look-in. Logan adds in a BBC interview:

"If I was coming from a minority sport, if I was the head of the British Fencing Association, I would make big in-roads with editors to get coverage for the personalities in my sport".

Governing bodies of squash take note! And get lobbying!

Inside Sport

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Wednesday 18 April 2007

YouTube videos vol. 1

Power v Palmer: Super Series 2001 Semi FinalFilm or video of squash isn't easy to come by. DVDs or video copies of individual matches are available for sale, though these are often relatively expensive due to their high production costs.

The PSA provide an excellent on-demand stremaing video service, PSAlive, where users pay a small fee to watch matches live or archived on the internet.

YouTube - the most popular site on the internet for members of the public to upload video clips - has a number of squash clips posted.

YouTubeThese include excerpts from professional matches, "home videos" and other bits and pieces. Some are listed below:

The Two Ronnies: Squash Match sketch
- the comedians knock up their usual brand of word play
Power v Palmer: Super Series 2001 Semi Final - that match
Battle Squash - two students (?) on the court. Strangely hypnotic ...
WSF Olympic bid promo - not sophisticated enough? Then neither are IOC officials ...
Roger Federer: squash player - the tennis great pulls a squash shot out of the bag

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Saturday 14 April 2007

Chicago squash initiative helps youngsters

A squash initiative in Chicago is benefiting youngsters in the city.

The METROsquash scheme, which is organised by the University of Chicago, is designed to introduce youngsters to the sport while also giving them a wider motivation to succeed in other areas of their lives.

A spokeswoman from the scheme said:

"It's something inner-city kids needed ... It's not just having fun hitting a ball, but it helps them get in better schools and interact with kids from different schools and people in general".


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Friday 6 April 2007

Egyptian squash's strength in depth

Squash in Egypt - the new epicentre of world squash?I was amazed to discover that 9 out of 16 of the finalists in the 2007 British Junior Open were Egyptian.

I've noted before the rise of a number of Egyptian players into the world elite, but was unaware of the strength in depth of north African talent.

It seems that the Egyptian ranks will be blessed with top professional ability for years to come, assuming that a significant proportion of these juniors go on to represent their country at senior level.

With Pakistan also supplying junior talent in not inconsiderable numbers, it appears that the Middle East and Indian sub-continent are well on their way to becoming the squash powerhouses of the future, after a number of years of dominance by the British and Australians.

Coupled with the amount of money that is being pumped into professional squash events in these regions (the 2007 Kuwait Open will be the richest tournament ever staged), this is perhaps more evidence that the UK's claim to be the "heart" of squash is ebbing away ...

2007 British Junior Open
Egyptian flair

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Wednesday 4 April 2007

Squash and the City

How (or should?) squash attract City money?Squash has an ambivalent relationship with the suited and booted. On one hand it tries to shake off "image problems" that perceive it as an elitist pursuit for public school toffs and City boys; on the other it courts the fat wallets by plonking itself in the middle of Broadgate or Canary Wharf.

Opening the recent 2007 International Edition (Issue 2) of Squash Player magazine I was pleased to see the annual London Super Series Finals, previously cancelled due to the withdrawal of a sponsor, may now be staged after all.

What particularly drew attention was a specific reference to the pertinence of the event's Broadgate Arena location:

"The Super Series Finals is a non-ranking event and as such provides exhibition-style squash for a niche audience in the City. Importantly, this is a showcase for the sport in the eyes of the world's financial community".

Having attended the event for a number of years I've seen some attempts to court (sic) the City workers who attend the Finals, usually through amateur tournaments throughout the week's competition, with a prize of competing on the glass court or a training session with one of the pros.

Spectators gather in the bars around Broadgate ArenaI don't doubt the sincerity and hard work of the organisers in offering these spin-off events to enthusiastic spectators. But does this constitute a serious attempt to "showcase the sport in the eyes of the world's financial community"? I doubt it - the profile is too small and investment minimal.

If the Super Series Finals at Broadgate are an explicit attempt to attract investment from City firms then they need to make a bigger statement. The venue (basically a marquee tent with limited tiered seating) does not allow for hospitality or entertainment away from the court – important side-shows when impressing corporate partners used to such things.

A couple of months ago I noted the irony in an initiative to attract City money to Olympic sports in preparation for the London 2012 Games. While large firms were being invited to "sponsor" an individual sport (supplementing increased state funding - some of which may even be diverted from squash), the chosen pastime of thousands of their employees wouldn't receive a penny due to squash's non-appearance at the Games.

Sponsorship v Partnerships

This shouldn't be the case. On a subsequent page of the Squash Player mag was an encouraging interview with Christian Leighton, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the World Squash Federation (WSF). His subject was sponsorships and partnerships: the former being centred on short-term mutual gain, the latter a strategic relationship that becomes "effective years after association".

Anthony Ricketts and Lee Beechill in the 2006 Super Series finalWhile admitting that the WSF is "certainly no expert" in this area, Leighton says that his organisation is willing to take risks in pitching for partnerships longer than the usual one- or two-year deals "even if it will deter many sponsors". This is a brave but necessary step, and is evidence of an ambition that the sport all too often seems to lack.

Given squash's links with business, why shouldn't these longer partnerships be possible? Finding where City companies splurge the charitable funds that could, under different circumstances, befall squash isn't difficult. A click on the website of the investment bank JP Morgan, for instance, sees proud boasts of partnerships that have created (and continue to support) sporting and cultural events.

With big-money announcements in the Middle East increasingly locating the region as the epicentre of world squash, the traditional influence of Britain as the sport's "home" is also under threat. This may not be a bad thing, though without innovative investment Britain may lose some of its famous tournaments in the near future.

So what exactly can be done to woo the investment banks, insurers and equity groups? Which partnerships would provide the most mutual benefit?

Why target a “niche”?

Is this man a member of a 'niche'?Perhaps this is not the right question to ask at this stage. The most ambiguous phrase in the above Squash Player extract is "niche audience": niches are by definition small, and do not attract large amounts of money. Squash is a mass-participation sport and needs to appeal than more to a niche audience.

The governing bodies of squash need firstly to address the incongruity posed at the start of this article and agree on which side of the bed they lie. Christian Leighton mentions in his article that "in order to find companies or brands with similar objectives or needs, we must first understand our own" - a welcome admission that a sport's image is crucial to its survival in the modern era.

World Squash Federation

Squash Player magazine

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Monday 2 April 2007

Sell out in Toronto!

Dear oh dear oh dear ...Not since the heady days of the 2001 British Open has sex so brazenly ensconced itself within squash's pure white walls.

The collective tutting from our more exclusive clubs is enough to shatter one's glass show court ...

Yet our Canadian cousins organising the Toronto Open 2007 have seen fit to publicise their event with a poster that appears to cross Attack of the 50ft Woman with Honey, I Shrunk the Squash Geeks.

With the tag line "WOMEN'S PROFESSIONAL SQUASH. IT'S IRRESISTIBLE", the promoters have clearly got the best interests of the game at heart.

So if you're in Toronto from 11-16 April, get down to the Goodlife Fitness Club where you'll see giant female squash players swatting tournament organisers.

Toronto Squash Open 2007

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