IOC seem intent on squashing a sport’s legitimate aspirations of joining the party
What have the trampoline, BMX-riding and wrestling all got that a true sport like squash hasn’t?
Ireland’s Madeline Perry – currently ranked No 8 in the world – in action. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Can someone explain why squash isn’t an Olympic sport but the trampoline is? BMX-riding is worthy of Olympic inclusion too, a none-too subtle attempt to get with the kids, even though most “kids” fulfilled by devoting their adult lives to such a childish activity probably need proofing against more than bumps and grazes. Squash though continues to be an Olympic no-go. Why?
Last month, an IOC conference cleared the return of wrestling to the games but turned down squash. It’s the third time the sport has been rejected as unworthy of the ‘higher-stronger-faster’ corporate fest that basks in its own pious athletic purity while sometimes turning over to avoid catching the eye of anyone not living up to the cant.
But you’d think squash would be a perfect corporate fit. It’s what suits do, fitting in a frantic sweat between meetings, getting the most bang for their valuable half-hour buck – and then heading to the squash court. No, of course not, but you get the idea.
The Wall Street caricature includes flint-eyed money types squeezing their expensively maintained carcasses on court to flail at a rubber ball. Gordon Gekko played squash. So do many of his unwittingly crass, dumbass disciples, floundering around among all the other membership trying to hone their UX skills.
Despite the unfortunate image though, squash works; squash is good. Just because it happens to be played by a bunch of hooray-IFSC types doesn’t mean it should be summarily dismissed by an establishment body that has embraced the fundamental exercise of gravity that is synchronised diving.
Even roller-hockey got demonstration status. You could once get medalled for Tug Of War. There are lap-dancing clubs where more gymnastic ability is on view than in archery which let’s face it is just posh darts. But squash, a genuinely global game that makes for at least as much of a spectacle as badminton, continues to get the heave-ho.
Normally explanations for such a mystery can be found in a lack of money and/or political clout but that can hardly be an issue for something that carries an elitist image in some parts of the world. Maybe it’s that very elitism which is the problem, but that hardly makes sense either.
Golf after all will be at the Rio games with all those regrettable taglines about membership-rules which are blatantly concerned more with keeping out than including in. Image certainly didn’t seem to be a problem with the IOC when it comes to a sport with such high-profile examples of exclusion based on race and gender, and of course, most importantly of all, wealth.
Some think it’s because telly isn’t particularly fond of squash. The ball moves too fast, a problem which in theory shouldn’t prevent anything from being in the Olympics but is hardly a plus considering TV’s all-consuming power. Nevertheless the BBC, shorn of so much mainstream stuff, is televising the Men’s Squash World Championships which start in Manchester this Saturday. A lot of it will be behind the red-button but hey, seek and you shall find.
You’d think the Beeb would big it up a bit more considering England is a world superpower in squash but obviously it’s not just the IOC that is ambivalent about the game. And that’s a pity because even the briefest of encounters with squash confirms it is a proper, sweaty test of skill, nerve and fitness in a way that Greco-Roman groping for instance will never be.
Forget the caricature; it takes Olympian levels of talent and dedication to play squash at the top level. Jonah Barrington, one of the all-time great squash champions, and a man once in possession of a moustache as wonderfully distinctive as his name, even wrote a book entitled Murder On The Squash Court. In it he describes the game as “boxing with rackets” and gleefully describes psychologically grinding his rivals down to nothing.
Clearly this is not some flouncy, dilettante pastime populated by middle-aged middle-management. It isn’t a strange, high-stepping cerebral pursuit like dressage. This has got grunt, albeit a mostly well-spoken grunt, but still, squash is a blatantly sweaty, rigorous sport played the world over, yet in terms of public profile it advertises itself as discreetly as a VD clinic.
No Irishman has made it to the World’s next week but this country’s heritage in the game is actually considerable. Did you know Dubliner Derek Ryan got to No. 7 in the world? I didn’t, and I’m supposed to at least give an impression of being a sports hack. Did you know Madeline Perry is currently the No. 8 ranked woman in the world? Me neither.
If an Irish tennis player got into the world’s top-50 they would be automatic Late Late Show, ten-grand-an-hour public appearance celebrity. But with squash there isn’t a peep, which in many ways is to the game’s credit. But still, what gives?
With no Olympic aspirations – yet– the World’s and the British Open remain the game’s pinnacles. This week’s action even has an intense rivalry to generate interest. Local boys Nick Matthew and James Willstrop apparently detest the sight of each other. It’s a hark back to the days of Barrington and Geoff Hunt, Jahangir and Jansher Khan: days when squash had a profile it can now only dream of.
It’s got to be worth having a peep behind the button to see if the IOC really are as dumb as they seem.