Around the Rings
: Squash is yet again on an IOC shortlist for inclusion on the Summer Olympic Program. What must your sport do differently this time around to win a spot at the Games?
: Subsequent to having lost the last time around, we sat down to reanalyze ourselves.
We also sat down with the IOC to learn where we went wrong and then tried to rectify ourselves.
We had problems with the game. People could not see the ball clearly on the television. The one thing that we didn’t have, in the IOC’s view, was any added value being brought in by the game.
So we sat with the IOC, we sat in with the member federations, and they commissioned a team to see what our problems were, how we were growing, what were our strengths, what were our weaknesses, and basically we narrowed it down to three areas:
1) The ball should be seen. In the Commonwealth Games, it was seen very clearly with high-definition cameras.
2) We changed the scoring system to award the let so that the game moves faster, which is a big issue earlier on.
3) And we are now experimenting with a glass floor, which we feel will bring in the television and IOC’s added value for the sport.
: How are those three changes developing? Have you received positive feedback from athletes, officials?
: Oh yes. As far as the camera is concerned, it’s very clear. We can see it ourselves.
As far as the scoring is concerned, it’s been adopted and we now have fewer problems on court, so that way it’s very successful.
We tried out the glass floor once in Bermuda, and now we are trying it out again at the World Youth Challenge Cup, which will be held in Chennai in February. The manufacturers have put a lot of money into the development of this product – the floor and the lighting system that goes with it. Basically, instead of a wooden floor, you have a glass floor with LED lights beneath the floor. With a camera on top of the squash court, it’s great for television.
: The field of candidates for the 2020 Olympics presents six cities – three from past host countries (Rome, Madrid and Tokyo) and three from somewhat more emerging markets (Istanbul, Doha and Baku). Should squash gain entry onto the Olympic program, where would be best for the sport to make its debut?
: We have a very strong presence in Tokyo. We have a strong presence in the Americas. Really anywhere is OK, even the emerging markets.
India wasn’t a strong player in squash 10 years ago, but today we are up and running. In the men’s, we are eighth in the world. In the women’s, we are sixth. Ten years from now, we don’t know which country is going to be a leader. Nobody thought that Malaysia would be a leader in squash, and today you find the six-time women’s world champion Nicol David. And so does Egypt.
In Europe, we are pretty strong. And it’s a growing global sport. The popularity is increasing in emerging markets like India, Hong Kong, China and Brazil, so in the past you would find that it’s
The rise of new powers in squash, such as Nicol David of Malaysia was unexpected Ramachandran says. (Getty Images)
always been either Australia, U.K. or Canada. Today, the whole picture has changed. If you look at the men’s, it’s Egypt. If you look at the women’s, it’s Malaysia who dominate the scene.
Ten years from now, I think more countries will have the opportunity to climb up the ladder, and more are coming in.
The biggest advantage as far as we are concerned is the low cost. Squash is cost-effective to integrate into the Olympic Games. It’s just 64 athletes, two courts, and a five-day tournament should do.
And you can showcase any host city. Anywhere in the world we can take the portable glass court and put it to showcase the host city. I don’t think many sports have that opportunity. For example, assume it’s in Egypt – I can put up my squash courts with the pyramids as the background. Hong Kong does it in the harbor. If you look at London, they do it in Canary Wharf.
As far as a host city is concerned, the biggest advantage our sport has is a unique ability to showcase the host
Squash is one of the fastest sports in the world. (Getty Images)
: It’s been three months since the IOC announced its shortlist of sports in Durban. What has squash done since to ramp up its 2020 campaign, and what’s next for your federation?
: We have invited the IOC family to watch our men’s event in Paderborn (Germany), which for some strange reason nobody turned up, but we had a unique lighting system which we had arranged specifically for the Olympic family to come and watch so that they can have a clear idea of what you could do with a squash court and what added value the sport can bring to the Games.
We have invited them again for the World Youth Challenge Cup in Chennai in February. I had a meeting with President Jacques Rogge in Hong Kong when he had an occasion to travel there. I spoke to him again, and we had an informal meeting with the IOC vice president Zaiquing Yu from China where we highlighted to him some of the changes that have occurred in squash since our last presentation.
It is our intention to be at every major event all around the world where you have IOC people president to try and lobby.
: Should squash fall short for 2020, do you simply keep bidding and bidding again until you gain Olympic inclusion?
: Squash is an athletic sport. In my opinion, it requires peak physical fitness and a chess-like strategy in order to excel in the game. Forbes Magazine
called it the world’s healthiest sport.
If I am there, I am like King Bruce. I’ll never give up. Why should I give up? To get into the Olympics is the ultimate for every squash player and the ultimate for every squash administrator, so I’ll keep knocking my head again and again and again until I get in.
: Anything else I’m forgetting to ask or anything else you wanted to tell me?
: Basically, it’s that we have learned from our mistakes. We have opened an office in Lausanne, we are moving our courts into the urban areas, we are trying to focus on youth, and we are demonstrating our 100 percent commitment to the squash family and our 100 percent commitment to the 2020 campaign.
We know that we have to present a very compelling case to the Olympic family, and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure we get in.
Homepage photo from Getty Images.
Interview conducted by Matthew Grayson.
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