Friday 28 March 2008

Top PSA job advertised after Briars leaves post

The requirements state that you need "strong communication and people skills" and "a consultative style of working", amongst other things ...

No, it's not the application form for The Apprentice.

The PSA is recruiting, and they're after a new Chief Exec ...

The job is large and demanding, with the position stating that the incumbent must look after management board administration and support; tour marketing; business, brand, media, finance and sponsorship management. Salary is not specified.

Within this remit, a couple of responsibilities that stand out for me are:

- Create and maintain quality control for all events to ensure that they are organised and marketed at a level concurrent with their status.

- Take prime responsibility for the management and development of all media outlets that actively promote the World Tour, with special emphasis on television and the new media.

From the point of view of a squash fan in the UK, these two require particular attention. Respondents to articles on this website have complained that they never knew a squash event was happening, even though it was on their doorstep, and a co-ordinated strategy for getting squash covered on TV and new media is long overdue.

Speculation about who - or at least what kind of candidate - should fill out-going PSA Chief Executive Gawain Briars' shoes seems to be split between those who favour someone from "inside" the game who has good relations with all stakeholding groups (such as a retired player), and those who would like to see someone with a track record in business/sports management apply their experience in the squash field.

Squashblogger's preference is for someone with proven experience in international business, as the growth regions within the sport (north America, the Middle East, India) require someone who can empathise with the different cultures represented by the global game and negotiate within them at an appropriate level (i.e. those "strong communication and people skills").

Ideally they should have a proper understanding of marketing, and have the foresight to see how using the media is crucial to successfully promoting their "product" to a public who are increasingly discerning when choosing how to spend their leisure time.

Briars' departure

I've resisted writing something about the recent departure of PSA Chief Executive Gawain Briars (on the left in the photo) as the only comments on his departure available have been via the press release from the PSA themselves.

The recent unease felt be some quarters with the way the recent PSA board election was conducted suggested to me that it was worth waiting to hear how others greeted the news.

Howard Harding's PSA press release highlights Briar's achievements, including turning a US$1.5 million men's tour into a US$3.2 million venutre, the introduction of PAR scoring and the introduction of web streaming of events.

PSA Chairman Mark Chaloner is equally glowing in his send-off:

"Under Gawain's steady stewardship the Association has reached a point now where its resources and broadcast vision provide us with our best opportunity to harness the appeal of the men’s game as the most exciting spectator sport"

A few days on from the announcement, others in the squash community were having their say ...

Jonathan Power is quoted on as saying "This is a great time for squash. Here is an opportunity for healthy change. I hope for our sport that the right person, with the right motives, becomes CEO."

John Nimick - also quoted on Squash 360 - added:

"To his credit, the PSA World Tour grew tremendously under Gawain's tenure as Chief Executive. Personally, I always found Gawain to be trustworthy and highly professional in our squash dealings. I wish him great success in his next endeavour and, as a promoter, thank him for his steady stewardship of men's professional squash."

As to my potential thoughts about the job, I haven't any at this time. I think the sport is poised to break out of its poorly recognized condition and this is the right time for the right person to make that happen."

I suspect further insight into the Board election and Briars' departure will come out after the new Chief Exec is appointed. Watch this space ...

In the meantime, Ted Wallbutton, former CEO of the World Squash Federation, is acting as interim CEO until a candidate is found.

View the job advert
View the job description

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Thursday 27 March 2008

Clyne poised to turn pro for Scotland

Alan ClyneScottish National Champion Alan Clyne recently defeated Joel Hinds to take the British Universities title.

The 21 year-old from Munlochy on the Black Isle recently led Scotland in the World Team Championships in Chennai in the absence of John White, and is poised to turn professional once he has completed his studies in Edinburgh this year ...

Given that Scottish squash has been lacking in top-level talent since the days of Peter Nicol and Martin Heath, squash fans north of the border need a young player to get behind. Clyne is now rated third nationally after White and Stuart Crawford, with a world ranking of 135 (March 2008).

Even though he's only starting out on a professional career, Clyne must have half an eye on the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Glasgow. He will be 27 then and approaching the peak performance age for a squash player.

Scottish Squash

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Wednesday 26 March 2008

Poll: Does squash need a Steve Redgrave-style figure?

Ballot boxA recent article on the Guardian website suggested that squash needs a "Steve Redgrave-style figure" to generate more interest in the sport.

Do you agree? Vote in the poll to the right ...

Poll now closed - results and analysis to follow.

Squash diminished by zero status

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Tuesday 25 March 2008

Squash (2002)

It didn't win the Oscar, but the Academy Award-nominated short film Squash is still knocking around the internet ...

Not the most original metaphor every deployed to suggest that sport is more than just ... er, sport, the old chestnut about the game parodying life/conflict is wheeled out again in a short film that would have Gordon Gecko weeping with pride.

The French-language film is directed by Lionel Bailliu, and while I can appreciate the story-within-four-walls minimalism of it all, it's hardly court-shatteringly original.

Watch it here - it's only 27 minutes long.

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Thursday 20 March 2008

Canary Wharf Classic 2008

The EastWinttergarden venueSo back to Docklands for - incredibly - the fifth year of this event.

The tournament had already made headlines by the time I attended on semi-finals evening, with Alister Walker and Joey Barrington scoring some of the biggest wins of their careers in the first round.

Though Barrington had now gone (losing to Beachill in four after upsetting the Finn Olli Tuominen), Walker looked like he couldn't quite believe his luck ...

Long-distance Walker

Luck, by all accounts, hadn't played a part in his progress, with a five-game thriller against Greg Gaultier in the first round seeing the 25 year-old score the biggest win of his career.

The official programmeThe Englishman was obviously taking a fancy to French opposition, and went on to defeat Renan Lavigne in the second round, again playing well above his seeding.

Walker came on to court for his semi-final looking like he'd just walked off the set of Pirates of the Caribbean in a bandana, banana-yellow shirt and shoes to match. He didn't appear in a particularly swashbuckling mood, however, betraying a nervousness from the start - as if he shouldn't really have sneaked through to this stage and was in danger of getting found out.

A few mistakes from Walker and an apparent hesitation about when during the rallies to attack quickly saw Pilley take advantage. The Australian was a mask on concentration thoughout, and quickly saw that getting the job done could be achieved by playing to his own strengths and waiting for his opponent to take risks. He took the first game 11-1 with a beautifully weighed drop from back-court.

I hadn't seen the 6'+ Pilley prior to this match, and his deft racket skills revealed a surprising Peter Crouch-esque subtletly on the ball.

His size was also used to good effect in the second, concealing a number of forehand attacking boasts from mid-court that frequently had Walker wrong-footed. At 1-4 down, the Englishman decided that patience was needed to avoid a terrible ending to a promising week, and started to find a more consistent length. He brought the score back to 4-7, only for Pilley to slam the door shut with a kill in the front forehand corner.

Things were now evening up, with both players dropping far too high above the tin. At 10-10 Walker's mistakes crept back in at the wrong moment and he was left with nothing to show for his mini-resurgence, going down 11-10.

The third started with Walker looking more confident, leading a game for the only time in the match at 2-1 when he finally bossed a point and really moved Pilley where he didn't want to go.

The back wall crown at Canary WharfThe crowd was getting behind their man, but as the Australian ploughed his furrow, Walker started to get frustrated at his inability to disrupt his opponent's methodical game. An angry volley kill off Pilley's serve that tinned to make it 3-6 sealed his fate, and Pilley won the match comfortably, taking the final game 11-5.

It was clear that the efforts of the past couple of days had taken their toll on Walker, with the effect being mental as much as physical. His next big tournament will show whether he has the strength of mind to build on his week in London.

Pilley looks a great prospect, and I suspect he will not stay at 20 in the rankings for much longer.

Beachill back

In the other semi Beachill looked sharp and back to his best, carving out his trademark full-length drives down the backhand wall and asking Willstrop to respond.

This accuracy, however, failed to pay dividends in the first game as a number of errors cancelled out the work he was putting in to limit his opponent's more naturally attacking game. Willstrop took it 11-8.

In the second, Beachill started to take more risks. The former World number 1 has spoken in interviews about changing his game to adapt to the fast pace of PAR scoring by looking for opportunities to attack earlier in the rally.

Leading 7-3, he was firing the ball in from all areas of the court, with Willstrop unable to catch up. The elder Yorkshireman evened things up 11-8.

At this point Willstrop started to dominate, but was clearly inhibited by Beachill's unpredictable game. The younger man won the next games to take the tie 3-1, and has now won 5 of their last 6 outings

The Final

Willstrop beats Pilley in 5 at Canary WharfThe final between Pilley and Willstrop was not one that many people would have predicted at the start of the week, and even fewer would have predicted that the Australian would push Willstrop to five games.

The two biggest men on the tour slugged it out for 78 minutes, with Willstrop coming back from 2-1 down to take his third Canary Wharf title.

It was great to see that this event has retained its atmosphere and continues to be a big draw in the calendar. Some other details stuck in my mind that other events would certainly benefit from - a decent programme for ticket holders with some proper editorial, and a willingness on behalf of the crowd to stay in their seats after a game and listen to the player interviews. If the players have the strength left to give a beside-court interview, it is the least one should expect of the spectators that they should show them some respect and hear them out.

ISS Canary Wharf Classic 2008

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Wednesday 19 March 2008

Metro rides wave of coverage

Metro logoIt's been a great couple of weeks for squash in the media, with the Canary Wharf Classic providing the catalyst for a number of articles and blogs in the national and regional press.

And hot on the heels of Monday's blog in the Guardian, today's Metro features a full-page article about squash ...

The article - "Squashed out of 2012" - centres on the sport's struggle for Olympic recognition, and features an interview with James Willstrop, together with a large photo of the Englishman playing in the final of the Canary Wharf event against Aussie Cameron Pilley.

The article also talks up England's success as men's and women's World Team champions.

I believe that the Metro is published regionally - the article is on page 68 of the London edition. The article doesn't appear to be available online at present.


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Tuesday 18 March 2008

Guardian blog reflects on squash's fortunes

The blog on the Guardian websiteA blog in The Guardian - Squash diminished by zero status - written by Oliver Irish, asks the question:

Without a Steve Redgrave-type figure, how can squash become anything more than a minority sport?

The posting has already attracted healthy debate ...

Highlighting the success of British squash players as opposed to the failings of its tennis players, Irish concludes that the sport requires a "Sir Steve Redgrave-type figure" to inspire a greater following.

James also interestingly observes that the only two occassions in recent years when the sport has made the headlines have resulted in negative press: Peter Nicol's move from Scotland to England and the back-firing PR stunt centred on Vicky Botwright's choice of clothing:

"The stunt succeeded in generating a lot of interest in Botwright's bottom, but very little interest in women's squash."

James asks what can be done to dig squash out of the "Other sport" sections in the press, but I felt it was a shame that he seemed to have his suspicions about squash's "City boy" image confirmed by his one-off visit to Canary Wharf.

The Canary Wharf Classic has a unique feel in the British squash calendar, and the good-humoured enthusiasm of the crowd that - by virtue of the event's location - are predominantly City workers, brings a lively atmosphere that others sports take for granted and squash often misses out on.

Anyone who has been to other events around the UK will acknowledge the quite different experiences that various venues and their crowds bring. Tournaments in Manchester, for instance, seem to be attended predominantly by the "squash community", and the atmosphere is very different to London. Not necessarily better or worse, but different.

It's this plurality of experience that gives squash - as a "portable" game - an advantage over other sports, in that it can locate itself anywhere where promoters have the will to put an event on.

Let's hope Irish catches some more live squash - but credit to him for bringing the discussion to Guardian readers.

Read the blog article and have your say ...

Squash diminished by zero status

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Thursday 13 March 2008

New technology at the 'Wharf

The East Wintergarden venue at Canary WharfNew refereeing technology is being used at the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic this week.

The PSA is trialling a new device to assist the three-referee system that has been used periodically in events over the past year.

TRI–REF is a wireless electronic system been developed by Michael Castleton of Security Foiling Ltd and the PSA ...

I wrote about the success of the three-ref system at last year's Docklands event. The new devices have been designed to replace the hand signals that the existing system requires, with the hope of even greater consistency in decision making.

PSA board director Tony Hands explained:

"The prototype model will allow three referees to make a decision independently and without the knowledge of their fellow arbiters. When the three decisions have been entered into the keypads, the head referee will see the resulting decision on his keypad and will announce it to the players and audience."

Squash is in a great position to enhance all areas of the sport through technology, and the TRI–REF system sounds potentially like a great enhancement to its officiation.

In an additional technological improvment on previous years for the Canary Wharf event, a huge TV screen is sited above the glass court so all spectators can see action replays and close-ups of the players, together with a full range of tournament stats and commercials.

ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic

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Wednesday 12 March 2008

Bingo squash

Joe Pasquale and Susanne Shaw will present BingoLottoIt's not often you see two fat ladies down on the squash court.

Yet England Squash is to benefit from a new televised bingo show fronted by squeeky-voiced Joe Pasquale.

If you never thought you'd read that last sentence ...

BingoLotto is Sweden's highest-rated TV show ever, and the format has been bought by Virgin 1 to screen in the UK.

The live show must donate at least 20% of BingoLotto's proceeds to good causes, and in Sweden around £100 million has been given to to charity each year.

The first partner charities have been named as the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

The CCPR is concerned with supporting grass-roots sport, and as England Squash is a member, it stands to benefit from any money charitably donated.

The BingoLotto website explains that the FA, the Lawn Tennis Association, The Ramblers' Association and The Royal Life Saving Society are examples of member organisations of the CCPR.

Read the names of the organisations in that last paragraph again, and I think you'll agree that some are perhaps more deserving than others.

Given that the LTA receives around £25m-£30m every year out of profits from Wimbledon and produces almost no British tennis talent (Andy Murray is largely a product of his time as a junior in the Spanish coaching system), I reckon England Squash have a pretty decent claim on whatever BingoLotto throws the CCPR's way.

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Monday 10 March 2008

British graduations uncertain as Egyptian juniors mass ranks

Tom RichardsSheffield, 2001. Two 15-year olds slug it out on court for the U15 British Junior Open title. One is a teenager from Surrey, the other a precocious Egyptian bidding to win his third successive BJO title.

The young Englishman Tom Richards (right) manages to take the first game off Ramy Ashour, but cannot prevent his opponent come back to win 3-1.

Little explanation is needed about what happened next for Ramy.

But what of Richards?

The 21-year old current lies at 89 in the PSA rankings, from a best placing of 54 back in March 2007. This decline on paper hides an injury that kept him out of action for 8 months, and with recent performances in the US that have seen him compete against the world's best in the first round of the Oregon Open and Davenport Pro Championships, it appears that he is heading in the right direction.

Now back in the UK, Richards just failed to qualify this weekend for the main draw of the Canary Wharf Classic.

Chris Simpson from Guernsey, a contemporary of Richards', currently lies just outside the top-50 in the PSA rankings. The twice British U17 and U19 champion has also represented Guernsey in the Commonwealth Games.

However - and perhaps worryingly for the medium-term professional game in the country - while England have 12 players ranked between 10-100 in the world (February 2008), only 2 of them (Richards and Simpson) can really be classed as relative newcomers to the professional tour (players aged under 23).

In contrast, Egypt have 6 players in the same category, with 3 still being teenagers. It would be interesting to know what this is a result of: more investment in the game, more exposure to the sport at an earlier age, better training methods.

It is well-documeted that while some junior players graduate successfully to the professional tour with apparent easy to speedily climb the rankings, others with promising junior careers struggle to become a force as adults.

On that same day that Richards and Ashour were fighting it out for the U15 boys' title, the U17 girls had their first ever American British Junior Open champion. Michelle Quibell defeated the unseeded Australian Kasey Brown to take the trophy back to the US.

What of Quibell now? Rather than being unable to adapt to the WISPA tour, Michelle is still playing college squash, but the sport is no longer her top priority. A Google search finds her happily studying at Yale, an environmental studies major and planning on going to environmental law school.

With the last British Junior Open also dominated by young Egyptian players, a look at the current state of the British junior ranks seems timely.

Lauren SiddallThe recent British Under-19 titles were won by Joe Lee and Victoria Bell.

18 year-old Bell - currently 161 in the WISA rankings - will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Victoria Lust (96), also a recent winner of the British U19 title - and move into the top 100.

Things are therefore looking more healthy for England's women, with 10 players under the age of 23 positioned between 10-100 in the rankings.

The former British U17 champion (2001) Lauren Siddall (left) attained her highest ranking this month (41) has made steady progress since joining the WISPA tour in 2004. The 23 year-old from Yorkshire has gone the "university route"*, rather then concentrate on the junior circuit, and it is beginning to pay dividends.

With other countries like France, Pakistan and the US also showing strongly in junior squash, it's the lack of English boys poised to make an impression in the senior ranks that could leave a gap when players like Lee Beachill and Nick Matthew come to retire.

* An article on players who combine university study while aspiring to a professional squash career will appear on the site shortly.

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Friday 7 March 2008

Sport magazine: Willstrop on song for Canary Wharf

Sport magazineLet's here it for Sport magazine once more - the Friday freesheet has again chosen to feature squash in its upcoming events section.

This time it's the ISS Canary Wharf Squash Classic that hogs the best part of a double-page, focussing on Willstrop's recent run of good form ...

Read the full issue here.

Sport magazine

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Thursday 6 March 2008

Lengthorn-Massaro earns chance to shine in Kuala Lumpur

Laura Lengthorn-Massaro holds off Natalie Granger in the 2005 British OpenTonight's quarter finals of the Kuala Lumpur Open 2008 present two intriguing ties that may herald a changing of the guard in the England women's rankings.

Wins by Laura Lengthorn-Massaro and Alison Waters in the first round mean that they will now test themselves against Nicol David and Rachael Grinham respectively ...

I have written previously about how 2008 may be a breakthrough year for Waters, after winning the British Open in her third appearance in the final.

Lengthorn-Massaro will meet David after upsetting the seedings to beat New Zealand's Shelley Kitchen.

She has not beaten the Malaysian in three outings to date, only managing to snatch one game off her, in the Apawamis Open earlier in the year.

Lengthorn-Massaro's recent progress has seen her reach the final of the British Nationals, where she lost to Waters, and claim some scalps against highly-ranked international opposition - wins over Vanessa Atkinson and Natalie Granger (a player who Lengthorn-Massaro reminds me of in style and build) come to mind.

With Waters defeating Vicky Botwright in the first round and Jenny Duncalf losing to the unseeded Rebecca Chiu early on, it appears that Lengthorn-Massaro and the new National Champion will be snapping at the heals of their more experienced team-mates in 2008.

Kuala Lumpur Open 2008

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Sunday 2 March 2008

Whose line is it anyway?

I always found Whose line is it anyway? very patchy - probably inevitable in a wholly-improvised show.

Judge for yourself as regular contestants Colin Mochrie and Ryan Styles improvise a squash game ...

Produced by Channel 4 in the UK, the show went on to be pretty successful in the US.

The featured clip is from a US edition, with Clive Anderson hosting, but it is worth noting that Mochrie and Styles were frequent performers on the British show.

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Saturday 1 March 2008

Upsets in Virginia as Ramy finally beaten

Olli TuominenOlli Tuominen continued his good run of form in the second round of the Davenport Pro Championships 2008.

On the back of his recent home win in the Finnish Open, Tuominen ousted David Palmer only to lose to John White in the quarters.

But perhaps the result of the tournament so far is Karim Darwish's five-game victory over Ramy Ashour ...

Darwish beat Ashour in five to set up a semi-final meeting with James Willstrop.

The Egyptian number 3 is also on a roll, with his current spell in the US already having born fruit in taking the Oregon Open.

Karim DarwishHaving played in the shadows of Shabana and Ashour since Ramy burst on to the scene, it seems that Darwish - a former World Junior Champion - is not content to sit back and watch his compatriots hog the spotlight.

Karim has been as high as number 5 in the world (March 2004), but since then has hung around the edge of the top 10.

The US has been a relatively successful hunting ground for the 27 year-old from Cairo, with decent runs in recent years in the Tournament of Champions and US Open.

Davenport Pro Championships 2008

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