Tuesday 29 April 2008

His name is ? - and he is funky ...

George ClintonAs I've noted before when subjecting a sportsman's musical tastes to scrutiny, it's not often an athlete reveals anything other than a preference for coffee table mediocrity.

So the pulsating funk/soul vibes eminating from the ipod of a certain squash player came straight out of left-field in the Guardian last week ...

His "Top five tracks" in the paper's What's rocking sport column were listed as:

Exodus - Bob Marley and the Wailers
Saturday Love - Alexander O'Neal
Encore - Sheryl Lynn
Cinnamon Girl - Prince
High Hopes - A Forest Mighty Black

Still unsure of the identity of this week's pop-picker?

Step forward England's own Adrian Grant (right) - a man who would know where the party's at, wherever the PSA Tour lands.

Grant is also a fan P-Funk architect George Clinton (pictured above), who Wikipedia notes as "one of the most important innovators of funk music, next to James Brown and Sly Stone."

Grant's eclectic range of listening spans hip-hop to house, and even reveals an avant-garde penchant for "lounge-type acoustic bands such as St. Germain from France".

Given we what was on Nick Matthew's ipod the last time the Guardian interviewed a squash player for the same column, it's down to the soul man from Lewisham to restore credibility :)

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Monday 28 April 2008

Squash makes shortlist for 2016 Olympics

Squash has been added to the shortlist for sports to be included in the 2016 Olympic Games ...

The International Olympic Committee sent a letter to the World Squash Federation last week, confirming that the sport had passed the first hurdle.

Squash just missed out on being included in the London 2012 games, after officials decided not to include any more new sports.

The other sports that squash must defeat to be included in the 2016 Games (assuming that a sport is removed to make room) are baseball, golf, karate, roller sports, rugby and softball.

In hindsight it makes one wonder whether anyone had a word in Seb Coe's ear prior to the successful 2012 bid to suggest that - if squash were included - Great Britain might have the chance of winning something. The organiser of Britain's successful bid clearly knows how to play IOC politics, but I suspect that his timetable wouldn't have been able to accommodate giving an individual sport any assistance.

Over 2,000 people recently signed a petition that was submitted to the UK government asking for squash to be included in the 2012 Games. The response to the petition can be viewed here.

International Olympic Committee
World Squash Federation

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Tuesday 22 April 2008

Omneya's turn in Egyptian spotlight

Omneya Abdel KawyAs if the marauding Egyptian dominance of the men's tour wasn't enough to worry other squash playing nations, now the women are getting in on the act.

Omneya Abdel Kawy has just won the Hurghada International in Cairo - her second victory in the event, but one made all the more significant by a victory en-route ...

The 23 year-old from Cairo defeated top seed Rachael Grinham over 5 games in the semis (only her second win over the Australian - her first being in the same event in 2006), and took the title with a 9/1, 9/4, 9/2 win over England's Jenny Duncalf in the final.

The parallel men's final was an all-too predictable affair, with home-spun rivals Amr Shabana and Ramy Ashour again facing one another, in thriller that Ashour took 12/10 in the fifth.

The women's champion's summary of the event upon defeating Duncalf gave a flavour of Egypt's reverance for their squash champions:

"It was so nice to hear the people chanting my name! ... It's such a nice feel to feel that people love you, and they support you, and they take your picture, and ask for autographs ... It's great!"

Wouldn't it be nice to hear a player say that after squash tournaments in other countries ?!

Next stop for the men is the $200,000 Kuwait Open - there won't be many who'd bet against an Egyptian taking the largest share of one of the biggest prize purses on the PSA tour.

Hurghada International 2008

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Monday 21 April 2008

Ramy finally confirms for British Open

Ramy Ashour in action in the 2008 Tournament of ChampionsRumours that Ramy Ashour would skip the British Open after missing last year's event have proved unfounded.

The Egyptian world number 2 was confirmed in a mailout on Friday from the organisers, iSPORTmedia ...

British crowds have had few chances to see the 20 year-old from Cairo on these shores, but Ashour's statement in the email suggests he is looking forward to playing the BO and the Super Series Finals in Broadgate, London:

"English crowds have always given me a lot of support, and having not played in England since winning the ATCO Super Series Finals last August, I'm really looking forward to playing two back-to-back events".

The strongest line-up for the British Open for a number of years includes World number 1 and World Champion Amr Shabana, fellow Egyptian Karim Darwish, the Frenchmen Gregory Gaultier and Thierry Lincou, Aussie David Palmer and England hopes Nick Matthew and James Willstrop.

2008 British Open

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Friday 18 April 2008

The future's orange?

Annelize NaudeI recently cycled around parts of the Netherlands, and can vouch for all that you've heard about it being a very cool, flat and friendly place.

I didn't have time to pop into the Squash City club in Amsterdam, which was a shame, as from its website (check out the 'Foto Tour') it looks like the kind of one-stop funhouse where you round off a game with a languid pose around the solarium, orange cocktails at the bar and a health-and-safety bustin' lock-in with the staff ...

Ok, I've not been there. But when you add those facilities to its 13 glass-backed courts, it's basically as far from my mouldy and municipal London squash shed as you can get.

If the general level of facilities in the country are that good it's no wonder Dutch women's squash is in a rude state of health at the moment.

And it's just got even better, as a certain Amsterdam resident has decided that playing squash in the Netherlands is worth changing your nationality for.

I've written enough on this site recently about the rise of the Egyptians, the great potential in the Indian national squad and strong showings in the junior ranks in other countries.

Strength in depth

Yet a glance at the stats since Grinham's defection shows that Dutch women's squash now has significant strength in depth, particularly when compared against European opposition, with 9 players in the WISPA 100 rankings (March 2008):

Natalie Grinham (2)
Vanessa Atkinson (10)
Annelize Naude (17)
Orla Noom (35)
Margriet Huisman (38)
Karen Kronemeyer (57)
Milja Dorenbos (75)
Dagmar Vermeulen (83)
Milou Van Der Heijden (84)

Squash City in AmsterdamMuch of the success of Amsterdam as a training base for many top players appears to be down to the coaching of Liz Irving, former New Zealand international and three-time finalist at the British Open.

Irving has coached players such as Vanessa Atkinson (a former World Champion), the current World number 1, Nicol David, and other Dutch players such as Naude and Karen Kronemeyer.

In the 2006 European Women's Team Squash Championships, the Netherlands were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by England in the final (though their top-ranked player Atkinson retired injured against Vicky Botwright), and in the Women's World Team Squash Championships in the same year in Edmonton came 4th after losing to Malaysia.

Right: slideshow of the Forexx Dutch Open 2007.

The European Team Squash Championships will this year be held in Amsterdam from April 30th – May 3rd, and the women will be hoping that home advantage coupled with a camp strengthened by the addition of Grinham (whom will not be eligible to represent her new country until 2009) will help them wrest the title from the English*.

Globalisation and squash

The Dutch squash federation is "ecstatic" about Grinham's decision to play for them, as it says on the Euro Teams website:

"The choice of Natalie to become Dutch not only gives us a real chance to win a European - and/or World title in the near future with our women's team, but it also means an enormous boost to the juniors and other top players in our country."

Grinham's decision to change nationality (speculation of personal reasons why she might have made it aside for moment) is less controversial than it once would have been given that switching allegience from country-to-country by professional athletes is far more commonplace across sport in general.

Vanessa Atkinson in actionPeter Nicol's move from Scotland to England made the front pages of a few national newspapers. But John White's decision to appear under the Scottish flag made few waves in the media, and I've read nothing that criticises Natalie Granger's globetrotting as either a slight on the country of her birth (England) or where she grew up (South Africa).

Neither can it be claimed that Granger's switch from England to South Africa to the US has been detrimental to her own career. She has climbed back up the rankings and, as an ambassador for squash in her role as WISPA President, she appears to do a pretty good job.

Of course, media interest (and the pressure that comes with it) is far demanding in squash than for other sports, and some individuals probably find that reconciling your consicence to represent a country other than the one of your birth is a lot easier when the press isn't camped on your doorstep.

Kevin Pieterson (cricket), Lesley Vainikolo (rugby) and Stephen Cherono (athletics) have had greater pressures placed on them when mulling over a change of nationality than any squash player.

In an increasingly globalised sporting world, old allegiences to your country of birth clearly do not tug as hard as they once did on the heart strings. Where squash is concerned (with its relatively small financial rewards), it is easy to see how a player's ambition to carry on earning a living from the sport they love must sometimes come before patriotism.

Grinham is not alone in embracing the orange banner. New team-mate Annelize Naude decided to change her nationality from South African to Dutch a few years ago.

Vicky Botwright of England takes on Annelize Naude of the Netherlands in the 2006 World Team ChampionshipsOne of the reasons that contributed to Grinham's disgruntlement with Squash Australia and the subsequent change of allegience was a growing unease with her Federation's selection policy, after Melissa Martin was not selected for the Commonwealth Games.

In one light, supporting a compatriot who is being treated unfairly appears a brave stand on a point of principle, but I can't help wondering what Orla Noom or Margriet Huisman (Dutch-born players, one of whom is likely to make way for Grinham in team events in the not-too-distant future) make of their own Federation's selection policy ...

Many column inches have already discussed the merits of letting the likes of Pieterson, Vainikolo, and Cherono take the place of a homegrown athlete - the debate is one for all sport to discuss.

I'm sure the European Teams will be a closely-fought celebration of women's squash in a city that does a great job in facilitating the sport.

The Championships are held at the Frans Otten Stadium from 30th April - 3rd May 2008.

* At the time of writing, Tanya Bailey had just withdrawn from the Euro Teams due to a knee injury, which further boosts the Netherland's team's chances.

Squash City
Women's European Team Squash Championships 2008
Squashtalk article about the Liz Irving Center of Excellence

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Tuesday 15 April 2008

Another PSA vacancy as Chairman of the Board quits

Squash courtPSA Board Chairman Jack Herrick has retired from his position.

This now leaves the governing body of the men's world tour without a Chairman of the Board or Chief Executive, following the departure earlier in the year of Gawain Briars ...

Herrick had been in the post 14 years:

"I must say I never planned nor anticipated staying with the PSA for 14 years, but now the time for retirement feels right."

The outgoing Chairman of the Board's reasons for leaving the position beyond the quotation above are not given. There is obviously a large shake-up happening in the PSA, the politics of which are rather obscure at present, but I'm sure they'll come out in the wash ...

In an unfortunate choice of words, Herrick is quoted in the announcement article on the PSA website on his experience working with recent PSA Chief Executives (including, most recently, Gawain Briars):

"To coin a phrase, each would have jumped in front of a truck to protect the PSA from harm ..."


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Thursday 10 April 2008

The Kids in the Hall

Andrew Bell writes in:

"People may love or hate the quirkyness of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe (from Canada, late 80s-early 90s) ... anyhow, they did a squash related vignette that I remember from way back when that found its way to youtube."

"It may be worth a view and a post at your excellent blog" ...

Does the WSF/PSA/WISPA explicitly prohibit the wearing of a balaclava on court?

Our courts are so cold in the winter, I reckon The Eradicator's got the right idea.

Thanks Andrew! Keep 'em coming ...

Watch the clip

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Tuesday 8 April 2008

Willstrop on BBC Radio Leeds

The English number 1 James Willstrop is interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds this week.

Helped by some interesting (for once) questions from the BBC interviewer, the Pontefract player makes some excellent points about that state of the game ...

While stressing the positive aspects of the "fraternity" that distinguishes squash from other sports, Willstrop also stresses the need to bring the sport out of the "community" and reach a wider audience - something that has been stressed on this site a number of times.

He also talks about the need for greater marketing of the game. This hopefully be a priority of the incumbent PSA chief ...

Listen to the interview here.

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PSA CEO search

Squash360.com logoCourtesy of www.squash360.com:

The search for a new Chief Executive for the PSA receives a lengthy and provocative analysis throughout this week at Squash360.com ...

PSA CEO search - an opportunity deliberately slipping away is the first of a series of articles on the site this week to discuss the departure of Gawain Briars and the search for a new candidate.

The appointment is crucial to the future direction of men's squash. Squashblogger's preference (see my previous article) 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.

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.

Read the article at Squash360.

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Monday 7 April 2008

Play squash for free!

Imagine if you had a local council that, rather than pushing ineffectual government health initiatives, encouraged you to play squash.

Now imagine that the same council actually pays for your court every time you want to play ...

Given my previous article about more court closures in the UK it seems pretty far-fetched.

But it'll soon be reality for thousands of Lancashire residents ...

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Lancashire, has joined forces with the Teaching Primary Care Trust in a £6m scheme to persuade binge-drinkers and sofa-hoggers to take up (admittedly, amongst other leisure pursuits) squash.

Swimming, gym sessions, aerobics, and badminton - together with squash - will all be made free of charge to residents of the Borough in three phases during 2009.

The scheme was launched by former Olympic hurdler, Sally Gunnell OBE and Gordon Taylor OBE, Chief Exec of the Professional Footballers' Association.

Blackburn with Darwen has "the third worst level of physical activity amongst adults in the country".

The lucky things now have the opportunity to consign that dubious honour to history - without the need for the perpetually awkward "Er ... have you got some money for the court?" at the end of a game ...

"Free" leisure activities to improve your health

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Friday 4 April 2008

Unlucky 7 to bite the dust at The Chase

Chase Hotel and Leisure Club logoIt appears that more squash courts are to close in England - this time in Leicestershire.

The Chase Squash Club, based at the Chase Hotel and Leisure Club, is a 7-court facility that runs comprehensive coaching programmes and regularly hosts county and regional events.

However the Club is to sell the remainer of its lease to the adjacent racecourse ...

As well as the courts, the club is well-provisioned, with a fitness suite, conference rooms, 10 bedrooms and a restaurant.

The England Squash website reports that "rumours vary as to what will become of the building, but chances of courts remaining and the club running as before under new ownership are slim."

I have reported on squashblog the recent closures of courts in Morley and Harrow, and it is sad to see more squash courts - this time in the Midlands - going the same way.

The Chase Club's 200+ members may have to look to move to other clubs nearby, such as Leicester Squash Club and Market Harborough.

The England Squash site suggests, however, that member may look to join other clubs over county borders, such as Daventry (Northants), The Park (Nottingham), Coventry & North Warwickshire, Kenilworth, Leamington and Solihull Arden.

The Chase Squash Club

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Wednesday 2 April 2008

Walker's biggest win

Relive Alister Walker's career-best moment when he beat Greg Gaultier in the recent ISS Canary Wharf Classic 2008 in this video courtesy of PSAlive.

Click on the image to the right ...

Walker's ecstatic celebrations at the end of the 6-minute piece are followed by an interview with Alan Thatcher.


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