Sunday 31 August 2008

Egyptian stars reveal secrets of success

More good work from the PSA and Pro-Active Television: a video feature on the Egyptian squash scene, filmed at the recent Petrosport Squash International.

Click on the left to view ...

Hisham Ashour, Wael El Hindi, Amr Shabana and others talk of the strong junior scene in the country, and how youngsters learn from watching and playing the pros.

The number of new courts being built in Cairo makes a London-based squash fan extremely envious!

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Thursday 28 August 2008

WSF updates on Beijing experience

HandshakeSome of my articles below - such as this one - highlighted the progress being made by squash's rivals for Olympic inclusion being made during the Beijing round of the IOC cocktail party circuit.

The World Squash Federation were there too, with President of the organisation Jahangir Khan leading the delegation ...

"Joined in Beijing by WSF Patron HRH Tunku Imran, the President of the Olympic Council of Malaysia and an IOC Member, and WSF Emeritus President Susie Simcock, who recently received the New Zealand Olympic Order award after more than a decade of service with the NZ Olympic Committee, Khan was able to meet and receive feedback and helpful advice from many IOC members present.

In addition to meeting senior officials of the Chinese Squash Federation, the party also met with IOC Sports department representatives to clarify the process leading up to the selection of sports for the 2016 Olympic programme.

The WSF delegates also met members of the international press in Beijing, which provided numerous opportunities to convey the sport's strong credentials for Olympic inclusion.

Furthermore, Jahangir Khan joined representatives of other 2016 short-listed sports on an "Around the Rings News Maker" breakfast panel session, which resulted in significant worldwide publicity for the Squash bid."

Read the full WSF press release

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Tuesday 26 August 2008

Where now for Olympic campaign?

Olympic logoThe following article of mine appeared recently on in response to articles commenting on rumoured leadership changes at the WSF ...

If these departures at the top of the WSF are true (there is nothing on the WSF website or another leading squash news website to confirm this at the time of writing - which perhaps is indicative of something else ...), then it has come at a very unfortunate moment in the build-up to next October's IOC vote.

At a time when visibility on the world stage is required, squash's rivals are making hay in Beijing. It is tempting to say that it is now too late to put in place a strong team and mount an effective campaign given the lead-in times required for media production etc.

At this critical point I see two options for moving forward:

1. Appoint a 'crash' team under a leader of proven experience and influence to manage the organisation, with the brief to work almost solely on the Olympic campaign and with the budget to do it. The premium would be high, but if measurable targets and corresponding incentives (such as the win bonus suggested by Richard Graham) can be agreed quickly, it gives the right kind of carrot for a candidate to get things organised quickly and work towards specific targets.

If Olympic inclusion is the most important aim of the WSF, it would do better to appoint an interim leader with the experience and influence with this goal in mind, rather than appoint someone with a '5 year mandate' (or something similar) whose broader remit might take his/her eye off the ball. A 'development' appointment can wait until after the vote, and if squash has made it into the Games, then the WSF would have perhaps already found a candidate for a longer-term position.

2. Accept that a world-class campaign to rival that of rugby sevens and golf simply cannot now be organised at this late stage.

If it is anticipated that both of these sports are squash's main rivals due to their higher profile and funding, it might be sensible (thought admittedly high-risk) to side-step the opposition by refusing to play their game - i.e. spend less and approach the bid from a different angle. Here's how it could work:

I have seen many articles from leading commentators on squash that stress that its intrinsic virtues demand that it 'must' or 'deserves' to be included as an Olympic sport. Of course this is true :) But given the widely-reported political shenanigans that led up to London being given the 2012 Games, this maybe comes across as a little naive.

However, it could work in squash's favour to put aside any cynicism about the voting process and place these values/virtues - rather than glossy media presentations and superstar endorsements - at the heart of its bid.

There are parallels here with London's 2012 campaign. Each of the bidding cities did produced the requisite media campaign/visuals for a host city pitch, but a hallmark of London's bid was that it was seen as more humble in its approach. This worked because of its stress on 'legacy' and the supporting emphasis on benefits for young people.

Squash could follow along these lines - not necessarily pushing 'legacy' etc, but in the tone of its bid. A situation could unfold where richer rivals place glossy media presentations at the heart of their bids (featuring soundbites from leading stars, visuals that reflect the comparative wealth of some of those sports, and shots of high-profile titles that are more important to the participants than winning the Olympics).

If the WSF were to follow these pitches with a slick-but-lower-key pitch that emphasises all of the squash's best virtues, while appearing to contrast with its rivals' more ostentatious approach (and thereby indirectly highlighting any cynical motives they may have for gaining Olympic status) - it would ally squash squarely with the 'Olympic spirit', and open up daylight between itself and its richer rivals (assuming that golf and rugby sevens are the principal opposition).

A high-risk strategy, but an option. At present I see no half-way solution between these two options that would make an effective case.

Last point: Why aren't more current players speaking up on how their sport is led? From what I can find only Shabana has really stuck his neck out in the past year to question the 'Olympic campaign' - not that you'll have read much about it in the 'squash press.'

Squash 360: Olympic hopes - comments and reaction

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Monday 18 August 2008

squashblog poll: Olympics - what will swing it?

Ballot boxNext October in Copenhagen, the IOC will decide whether any new sports will be included in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Squash is on the shortlist, but has competition for inclusion in the form of rugby sevens, golf, softball, baseball, roller sports and karate.

What will be the key factor that convinces those that matter that squash has what it takes? Vote on the right of the page ... or email me if you've got other ideas ...

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Friday 15 August 2008

Rivals for 2016 make headway in Beijing

Pressing the fleshThe Guardian reports that the race to be included as a new sport in the 2016 Games is moving apace behind the scenes of the current Olympics in China.

Two of squash's rivals for inclusion are currently making headway in Beijing, "pressing the flesh" of those that matter ...

Journalist Matt Scott reports that the rugby and golf authorities are making the most of their opportunities:

"Bernard Lapasset, the International Rugby Board's chairman, has been lobbying hard for the inclusion of his sport's sevens format in the Olympics. Fluent in Spanish and English, the Frenchman has used his language skills to meet about 50 of the 114 IOC members to press his case.

Rugby has been promoting itself since before London's anointment as the 2012 host city in 2005. Ty Votaw, the executive vice-president for international affairs at the PGA Tour, is heading golf's campaign for inclusion. He arrives on Saturday and will embark on a similar tour of flesh-pressing engagements."

As I've previously written, rugby sevens look to be mounting a particularly strong campaign, with a slick media operation ready to be rolled out.

The latest progress on squash's campaign can be seen at the WSF site here.

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Monday 11 August 2008

Beeb watch

With the Olympic Games underway in Beijing, scores of BBC Sport staff have flocked to the "greatest show on earth" at licence fee payers' expense.

With resources clearly diverted to Olympic sports ever since London was awarded the 2012 Games, what does this mean for squash's coverage on the Beeb?

As a non-Olympic sport, squash appears to have already felt the pinch. The BBC's decision after London won the 2012 Games to divert most of their coverage to Olympic sports has meant that the squash section on their website is now updated only infrequently - keen readers of the squash page (sadly relegated to the "Other sports" section with Darts and Bowls) will have noted that the last proper article was published on 22nd May.

To give the BBC its due, this last article was a proper feature, with the journalist Pranav Soneji interviewing Lee Beachill at the Super Series finals. There are photos of the two playing a game together, and the article is very positive in tone.

I doubt this page will receive any attention in the next month or so, and it'll be worth keeping an eye on it to see if things pick up post-Beijing.

I'm aware that at least one governing body sends stories in on a regular basis, so some lobbying for further coverage by the BBC is being done.

As far as any TV coverage on the Beeb goes, the next time when anything is broadcast is anyone's guess. If I remember rightly the last coverage was at least a year or two ago, with around half and hour's highlights of the British Open shown on a Saturday.

It's also worth noting that the 606 spin-off squash page often follows up stories that are on the main BBC sports site, and Pranav Soneji's comments on this page show that he - at least - is well-disposed towards the sport.

BBC squash page
Squash at 606

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Friday 8 August 2008

Shorbagy follows Ramy as top World junior

The conveyor belt of Egyptian squash talent continues to roll, with Mohamed El Shorbagy succeeding Ramy Ashour as the Men's Junior World Champion.

The 18 year-old from Alexandria beat the much higher ranked Aamir Atlas Khan in the final in Zurich, where his opponent from Pakistan was looking to become the first player from his country to take the title since Jansher Khan in 1986 ...

It is worth noting that Egypt and Pakistan had 7 players between them in the last 16 of the competition, with only one player from England (traditionally strong in providing junior talent) - Adrian Waller - making it to the same round.

Waller eventually lost in the quarter finals to Nicolas Mueller, the third seed from Switzerland, who subsequently took Shorbagy to five games in the semis.

The 18 year-old Swiss player has had three significant U19 title wins this year, and already is his country's top-ranked squash player.

2008 Men's Word Junior Championships

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Monday 4 August 2008

FTSE - BOA initiative

The Ciy of LondonLooking forward to the start of the Beijing Olympics this weekend made me remember an initiative I noted a while back that - in the run up to the 2012 Games in London - seeks to pair FTSE-100 companies with different sports as a way of "helping them improve the effectiveness of their business delivery and performance."

There wasn't much information available on the initiative at the time, but some subsequent digging around got me thinking about how squash might follow suit ...

The British Olympic Association (BOA) website now lists a number of the Olympic sports and the British FTSE-100 companies that they are paired with (the first 10 were announced in February 2007, with more partnerships announced as they were agreed):

Corus - triathlon
Skandia - biathlon
British Gas - hockey
Land Securities - volleyball
GlaxoSmithKline - boxing
British Airways - snowsportGB
SAB Miller - fencing
Wolseley - gymnastics
Home Retail Group - badminton
Group 4 Securicor - judo
Standard Life Investments - archery
Experian - ice skating
Marks & Spencer - modern pentathlon
Accenture - sailing
O2 - taekwondo
John Lewis - equestrian
Alliance & Leicester - swimming
Sainsbury's - table tennis

The website also has downloads of media briefings for each specific partnership.

The website goes on to explain:

"The scope and focus of the individual relationships will vary from sport to sport in order to address their differing needs and the expertise available. The agreements will be between the NGBs and the individual businesses, although the overall programme will be facilitated by a Programme Director within the BOA.

The intention is for the relationships to extend up to, and potentially beyond, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in order to give the partnerships the best opportunity of making a lasting difference in this challenging and exciting period.

This programme is co-ordinated by a Project Director, Bev Salt who is on secondment to the BOA from AstraZeneca."

Most of the media briefings appear a little short on detail still, though Alliance & Leicester's partnership with swimming notes that one of the projects that they will start of with is:

"... to develop British Swimming's customer relationship management skills. To achieve this, Conrad Taggart, Head of Customer Strategy and Information at Alliance & Leicester, is sharing his specialist knowledge in database marketing and analytics."

Presumably this consultancy is being offered for free in return for the positive marketing/promotional benefits of being associated with a healthy sporting activity (and sharing in the successes of any British swimming champions).

It is ironic that a sport that a huge number of City-based FTSE-100 companies employees probably enjoy playing on a regular basis - squash - is excluded from the above list as it is not (yet!) an Olympic sport.

The idea is an innovative one, and not being an Olympic sport does not mean that squash cannot copy the model by forming such a strategic alliance.

Some might say that squash should get its own house in order before reaching out to form such a partnership. But given that squash is patently lacking in a number of the areas the initiative seeks to address, a sharing of expertise could allow the sport to reach its goals more quickly and effectively.

The new head of the PSA has a remit to address a number of the sport's deficiencies, and it was good to see that someone has been appointed who has prior experience of forming strategic partnerships.

Coupling a sport with a large business organisation to help serve its medium-long term interests is a bold initiative, and it will be interesting to watch closely to see how much help is offered in practice to the sports listed above, beyond the fine words of the media briefings. My guess is that some companies will take the initiative more seriously than others.

There are also mutual risks to bare in mind when undertaking such partnerships - a sporting drug scandal can end up tainting a partner organisation by association, or a recession can see a company pull the plug if it needs to make savings.

Who might squash partner with? A bank? A telecoms group? Send in your suggestions ...

Squash and the City (feature)
List of FTSE-100 companies

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