Tuesday 27 November 2007

2.1 billion (!) won't see Ramy in Bermuda

Bermuda last hosted a PSA tournment in 2005 - the Bermuda MastersGiven the punishing toll squash takes on the body, its inevitable that players will withdraw from tournaments at relatively short notice.

Reading the news that Ramy Ashour, Karim Darwish, Borja Golan and Stacey Ross had all had to pull out of the Endurance World Open Bermuda 2007 just before it was about to kick off must have been a real blow for the promoters and the spectators alike.

It now means that Egyptian prodigy Ashour has missed the two most prestigious events of the year - the British Open and now the Worlds ...

Secure in the world number 2 berth after some big tournment wins this year, the Prince of Egypt/The Special One (any more? Has any squash player acquired more nicknames more quickly?) would have been a sure bet for the final until a leg injury ruled him out.

Here's hoping he recovers quickly and will soon appear on British shores (maybe at Canary Wharf?). In his absence, Greg Gaultier and two-time champion David Palmer look best set to challenge Shabana for his crown.

Player involvement aside, the organisers are clearly confident that this World Open will be covered more extensively than any other:

"The event will draw extensive media coverage, including presence from Reuters, CNN, BBC World, NBC News, Fox Australia, and Orbit ESPN, and TV coverage is expected to reach up to 2.1 billion spectators worldwide."

2.1 billion?! How is this figure calculated? Shame they won't get to see the world's second best player.

Endurance World Open Bermuda 2007

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Monday 26 November 2007

Wot no BBC coverage?

The BBC website has not updated its squash page since late October 2007Visitors to squashblog may have noticed the lack of movement in the BBC RSS feed at the top of the page.

The date in the screengrab to the left appears to say it all - have the BBC abandoned coverage of squash on their website?

Squashblogger isn't best pleased either. The inclusion of the RSS feed at the top of the page rounded squashblog's design off nicely, and the feed is a lot more customisable than the one provided by the WSF.

The BBC site says that it was last updated on the 23rd October 2007. Does the lack of coverage of both World Opens mean that the BBC has decided not to cover the sport any more?

It is possible that the recently announced cutbacks at the Beeb may be to blame.

The inclusion of third party content at the bottom of the page, together with the disclaimer "The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites" does not augur well ...

Squash page at BBC Sport

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Saturday 24 November 2007

Water at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

The squash scene in Water, at the Lyric Theatre, HammersmithGoing to see a play just because it contains a scene involving a squash match admittedly seems a little odd.

A review in the Guardian had caught my eye, and with front-row seats at £13 it would have been rude not to (though I did have suspicions - in a play called Water - why the 'expensive' seats were so cheap ...)

Water at the Lyric Theate, Hammersmith, was unusual in its inventive use of audio-visual effects, most of which were either created or choreographed on stage ...

The play's theme was global warming - specifically the dangers posed by rising sea levels. It centred on a British marine biologist seduced by the greater (and it was hinted - unethical) funding and personal benefits of a north American university and the way he wrestled with his conscience in accepting them.

The biologist's relationship with his son and a sub-plot involving a civil servant working on climate change policy and her relationship with a 'free diver' explored the same themes, and though it often felt that the message was being rammed home, it narrowly avoided being over-earnest through the distraction of the innovative stage effects.

The interweaving of plots meant that we were frequently whisked from the present day back to the 1970s, when the biologist first brought the potential problems of climate change to the attention of a conference audience in Vancouver.

It was one of these flashback scenes that brought the squash court to the stage. Some of the courting (sic) of the biologist by a senior faculty member of the university was done on the squash court, and we see the two men verbally joust over their respective principles (the faculty is being sponsored by a large company not sympathetic to the Brit's environmental views).

We see this in silhouette from behind (see the picture above), with the popping sound effects of the ball being provided by one of the on-stage sound guys.

The use of a squash game as a metaphor for conflict is not exactly new (most recently it was reprised by Ian McKewan in his novel Saturday, and who can forget Michael Douglas getting one over Charlie Sheen in Wall Street?). What struck me was how - watching the two academics try to gain an advantage over one another in their tight shorts and headbands - the game itself was being used to represent the 1970s and (given that the play shifted back and forth in time) "yesteryear" in general.

The execution of the "game" on stage was therefore far more impressive than the recycled metaphor it represented. The other sport represented in the production was free diving, which as a modern sport was depicted as far more cutting edge, though to explain how it may also have been used metaphorically in other ways would be to spoil the ending ...

Squash on stage - you don't see it too often.

Water is showing at the Contact Theatre, Manchester, until 24th November
Read the Guardian review

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Friday 16 November 2007

internationalSPORTgroup unveils VIP membership

iSPORTvip Squash MembershipSquash promoter internationalSPORTgroup have unveiled a new marketing initiative, designed to retain and increase numbers attending their events.

The iSPORTvip Squash Membership is billed as "an exciting new opportunity for players, spectators and enthusiasts to receive a comprehensive range of exclusive benefits" ...

Membership will bring a host of benefits, including (depending on level of membership):

- Free tickets to the final of the 2008 British Open in Liverpool
- Priority booking, exclusive tickets discounts and access to VIP members' lounge at iSPORTevents
- Exclusive gifts and offers from sponsors and partners, including a free pair of Hi-Tec squash shoes, worth £60.00 (if you join by the end of the year)
- Exclusive discounts of all iSPORTmerchandise
- Free internation squash magazine subscription
- Free monthly electronic magazine and e-newsletter
- Free internation squash annual subscription
- Joining pack and personalised membership card

Exclusive membership is £50, and Platinum membership £250. Both represent excellent value for money for the committed squash fan, with the Exclusive membership priced competitively enough to tempt newcomers.

This is a brave new step by the iSPORTgroup (who recently put on the English Grand Prix, a slickly-ran affair that was hampered by suspect officiating), and given that squash is crying out for innovative marketing is exactly the kind of initiative it needs.

iSPORTvip Squash Membership

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Friday 9 November 2007

Botwright defeats new World Champion

Vicky BotwrightEngland's Vicky Botwright scored one of the best wins of her career yesterday, defeating the newly-crowned World Champion Rachael Grinham in the quarter final of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open 2007.

The 30 year-old from Manchester defeated her Australian oppontent 3-1 in just under an hour.

It was only Botwright's second win over the elder of the Grinham sisters ...

The world number 7's career has been consistent over the past three years, with Botwright cementing her position inside the world top 10 (highest position 5).

Though rarely troubling the top three of four in major competitions, Botwright has raised her game over the past 18 months, taking the title in Texas and reaching the finals of the Apawamis and Wolverhampton Opens.

She now meets Nicol David in the semis.

Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open 2007

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Wednesday 7 November 2007

Shabana attacks WSF over Olympic dithering

Amr ShabanaAmr Shabana has attacked the World Squash Federation for being slow in organising its campaign for squash's inclusion in the Olympic games.

He also criticised the organisation's marketing in general, noting the movement of the sport's epicentre towards the Middle East and the subsequent neglect of former squash powerbases such as Europe ...

In an interview with the Gulf Times, the Egyptian world number one pulled no punches as he bemoaned the face that he is unable to appear on the biggest stage.

Squash just missed out on inclusion for London 2012, and now hopes rest on it being included in the 2016 games. Shabana himeself has been reconciled to accepting that he will never appear in an Olympic event:

"There was a time when I was very eager to compete at the Olympics. But now since those hopes have been dashed I don’t worry about it any more."

He also sees the recent big-money tournaments in the Middle East as the benchmark for other countries to follow:

"The healthy competition in increasing the prize money between organisers of tournaments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait is of great help to the hardworking players."

It wasn't mentioned in the article whether Shabana spoke for the other PSA players, but it would be interesting to hear whether the PSA players' reps think that Amr's criticism is valid.

Shabana slams world body - Gulf Times

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Monday 5 November 2007

Innovative marketing on YouTube makes a racket

A Usual Day with TecnifibreThere's a couple of great new marketing initiatives from the PSA and a couple of racket manufacturers up on YouTube.

The videos from Tecnifibre and PSA/Dunlop involve a number of PSA pros and are a step forward in the promotion of the sport.

A Usual Day with Tecnifibre features stablemates Thierry Lincou and Wael El Hindi "acting out" a supposed day in their training regimes.

The main section where they play in the urban surroundings hints at a "street" element to squash. I found this particularly interesting, as it suggests a new direction in moving the game's image away from the stuffy associations that many think it still retains.

The film makers could have skipped the first couple of minutes or so where the players are hanging around the conventional court as the dodgy scripting cheapens the concept somewhat. But well done to Lincou and El Hindi for experimenting like this for the good of the game.

The PSA film Racket Evolution , which seems to have been put together in partnership with Dunlop, has Frenchman Greg Gaultier and world number one Amr Shabana from Egypt talking about the evolution of squash rackets from the wooden models of yesteryear to today's carbon fibre composite models.

The concept is not as innovative as the Tecnifibre film, but production standards are much higher.

Both players talk eloquently about the equipment they use - Gaultier recalls a particularly amusing exhibition that he agreed to play "retro" - and the technical jargon usually associated with racket technology is pulled apart by Toby Marcham from Dunlop.

The film has been slickly produced by Pro Active Television.

So, a bold concept on one hand and slick production on the other - the next step is to marry the two and make sure more people see the end product ...

A Usual Day with Tecnifibre
Racket Evolution

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Friday 2 November 2007

Don't try this at home!

Meet Alakazam - aka "The Human Knot".

What he does with a squash racket should under no circumstances be attempted in a bid to impress your mates.

He appears to command quite a crowd - I think the footage is either the US or Canada but Alakazam seems to have a British or Australian accent ...

He would make for an amusing pre-match diversion when a pro tournament was in town.

I wonder how much he charges?

The Human Knot

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Thursday 1 November 2007

World Squash Day 2007

Saturday November 3rd marks the fifth annual World Squash Day.

Chief Executive of the World Squash Federation Christian Leighton wants every national association to ask squash clubs to support the day by holding events of their choosing.

But while the day is a great marketing initiative and a useful tool for the next Olympics pitch, a glance at the World Squash Day website with only two days to go reveals no entries at all in the "2007 events list" ...

The England Squash website has no mention of World Squash Day.

The event was founded in memory of Scottish junior international Derek Sword, who died during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in 2001.

The WSF website lists events that have taken place on previous World Squash Days, including a world rally record, with groups of four playing a non-stop "feed" for an hour, former World Champion Carol Owens taking on some of the All Blacks rugby team, and a group of squash enthusiasts running up a mountain in St. Lucia.

The WSF also hope the scheme can help to raise the profile of squash as it strives for inclusion in the Olympic Games.

I am sure the day was advertised better in previous years (I seem to remember some photos of Lee Beachill knocking a ball around a court with Jahangir Khan). Given that the logo above seems to have been given little design thought, it appears that not a huge amount of time has gone into planning the promotion of this year's scheme.

This is a real shame, as a once-a-year event such as this should surely receive much wider media coverage.

You can show your support by getting your club involved and visiting the WSF website.

World Squash Day.

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