Tuesday 26 August 2008

Where now for Olympic campaign?

Olympic logoThe following article of mine appeared recently on Squash360.com 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


  1. Like you, I'm also finding it more and more unlikely for squash to be included in the Olympics. There seems to be absolutely no publicity for the bid apart from a token visit to Beijing from Khan.

    Out of the choices you've lined up, option two seems like the one that is most likely to work. Not bowing down to the current process (the sport with the most money wins?) and trying something different might just be what is needed.

    Regarding the "Squash press" coment you made, this blog is the entire squash press for me!

  2. I think it's naive to think that the rugby and golf spending won't carry a huge amount of weight with the IOC members who vote next October. Having said that I do think that squash has a superb case BUT it is perhaps indicative of the perception that many people are shocked to discover that it is not already in there!

    The squash authorities have much work to do....


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