(ATR) Pablo Serna said he was “more than terrified” on the eve of the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
A glass court at the Buenos Aires YOG is the first Olympic inclusion for Squash (ATR)
On the same day the IOC would begin its two day session here in Argentina, 38 junior squash players from 23 countries would begin a six-day showcase at the 2018 YOG.
For squash, it is the first time that the sport has been included into the realm of an Olympic event.
“It has taken six months of my life to do this and after Sunday I was more than terrified,” Serna, a World Squash Federation Vice President, said to Around the Rings
. "Since [the showcase began] I’ve been enjoying this more and more.”
Being a part of the YOG, even as a showcase sport, was a strategic coup for the WSF. A number of sports that were part of the Nanjing 2014 program have made the jump to the full Olympic program. IOC leadership has said it considers the YOG a testing ground for new sports and disciplines.
Ultimately, it is the IOC Executive Board that recommends to the IOC Session what sports get the prestige, and lucrative benefits, of being on the Olympic program. Olympic sports receive generous payouts from the IOC and the priceless exposure through being broadcast on major networks worldwide.
While squash is yet to receive access to such benefits, the sport has slowly built up its professional tour so that with or without the Olympics top athletes get a yearly living wage from playing the sport.
Squash will need to continue a run of positive events in the eyes of the IOC to make it on the shortlist of sports considered for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Getting to that point has not been a problem for squash. Instead, the sport has failed three consecutive times to clear the last hurdle to join the Olympic program.
Most recently, the IOC nominated five sports for inclusion in Tokyo 2020, leaving squash on the sidelines.
Since that effort in 2016, the federation has worked to make the sport more innovative and “affordable to everyone,” Serna said. A new executive was elected, one who brought the federation and professional tour together. Outside of the WSF vice presidency, Serna is vice-president of the Professional Squash Association.
WSF has also partnered with a German startup “Interactive Squash” to add technologic aspects to its mobile court. In addition to the clear windows surrounding the modern squash court, the federation has added an electronic wall that can track location of the ball, and three cameras to track player and ball movement.
understands that the court itself costs less than $250,000, and can be set up anywhere with ease. A WSF official said that another benefit to the federation’s Paris 2024 bid is that the French Squash Federation already owns a number of clear courts for competition.
The IOC has already opened its process for the Paris 2024 sport program, and is expected to name its shortlist in mid-2019. The city of Paris has already written a letter to the WSF to begin collaborating for the bid, Serna said.
Even the order of the next Olympics could play in squash's favor. Paris was awarded the 2024 Olympics in a decision by the IOC with Los Angeles securing the 2028 Games. France currently has multiple top 10 players on the men's and women's tour, and Paris has hosted senior and junior squash world championships in the past, with great results. The same could not be said for Los Angeles.
Complicating the bid process for sports is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The IOC will make its final decision on the Paris 2024 sport program after the Tokyo Games are complete, once the five new sports have Olympic experience. There is worry in squash that having to compete with that Olympic experience could be another hurdle in the sport’s Olympic quest.
Spectators packed around the squash court (ATR)
Serna said that the sport “is moving forward” no matter the final decision on the Paris Games.
For the first time, junior athletes are getting an up close and personal view of the Olympic experience. The athletes are credentialed, will get to visit the Olympic Village, and have been well received by the Argentine hosts.
During the showcase players threw autographed balls at a rapturous public, and the federation opened the court up to children to try their hand at playing basic games on the court’s LED screens. Squash is even part of the Olympic Initiation program. Argentina’s squash federation will keep the court open to the public to experience after the WSF leaves town.
Dylan Tymkiw, an 18-year-old squash player from Argentina, told ATR
that people kept coming up to him “saying ‘how is squash not on the Olympics?’” throughout the showcase. Should squash realize its Olympic dream, he will be 24 years old at Paris 2024, ideally competing for a medal.
“It would mean everything,” Tymkiw said. “[Playing for a medal] is a dream of every single athlete.”
Coverage of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games is made possible in part by BA 2018
Written by Aaron Bauer in Buenos Aires
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