Thursday 11 December 2008

"Squash makes a better world"? Hmm ...

TreeThe December 2008 edition of International Squash Magazine dropped through my letter box last week. With great photos but little beyond a narrative view of what's happened recently in the squash world, I rarely give it much more than a cursory glance.

But an article featured on the front cover - 'Saudi Arabia - Wbere Squash Makes a Better World' - had me turning straight to page 9.

I could see the point of the piece, but some of it sat rather uncomfortably ...

The article, written by Richard Eaton, concerns the current development of the game in Saudi, and focuses in particular on the Saudi International, which Eaton writes was:

"... created with the twin aim of transforming the lot of the professional player and of altering perceptions of Saudi Arabia".

The article goes on:

"The tournament began to have a long-term public relations effect for Saudi Arabia. Players and people who came to Saudi told family and friends about it. Players were taken to museums to understand something about the country's history. The tournament hosted a traditional night. And last year some players stayed on after the tournament enjoying the nearby resort, the great weather and the lovely hospitality".

No doubt all this is true, but there is something uncomfortable about reading of "great weather" and "lovely hospitality" (which journalists and others have very much enjoyed), when the country is frequently cited as having an appaling human rights record.

Describing the fact that squash players were "paying to play" in Saudi as "horrific" is a particularly poor choice of words - there are plenty of other, very real, horrors happening every day in the country.

The ethical questions hanging over all this are similar to those that occupied many column inches in the run-up and during the Beijing Olympics: large and tricky issues, which it would be interesting to know the governing bodies' positions on.

Eaton's heart is clearly in the right place, but on this topic I think it pays to choose words very carefully: it's not only squash that seems to be getting a good deal.

December 2008 edition of International Squash Magazine
Human rights in Saudi Arabia

PS - When was the last women's professional squash tournament in Saudi Arabia?

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