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Wednesday March 28, 2012

Squash hopes to be third time lucky

LONDON: Almost within sight of the Perspex box Nick Matthew used to parade his rapier-like racquet skills and boundless stamina, last week was the reason the world squash champion’s celebrations at yet another title were tinged with regret.       

The 31-year-old Briton’s triumph at the Canary Wharf Classic in the heart of London’s glittering financial hub, the latest stop on the PSA World Tour, was just a mile or so away from the heart of the Olympic Park that will welcome the world’s greatest athletes in 26 different sports this year.       

Sadly for Matthew, however, squash will not be at the party.

Its last two attempts to persuade the IOC to add squash to London’s schedule, and to the Rio Olympics in four years, both failed, meaning Matthew’s dream of reaching “the pinnacle” of his chosen sport will never be realised.       

Optimism is high that the latest campaign, aimed at 2020, could succeed but it will be too late for Matthew. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Yorkshire’s Matthew, who is being used as ambassador for squash’s latest bid for Olympic recognition, said at the Canary Wharf tournament, a slick event that highlights the innovations made in the sport such as glass walls, enhanced camera angles, video referrals and music.       

“We are devastated not to be at the London Olympics really. It will be hard to watch. My girlfriend is involved with the British cycling team, so it’s mixed emotions.

“Squash is one of the sports in which Britain would have had great potential for gold medals.

“But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we have to concentrate on 2020 and beyond and look at the bigger picture, even if that will be too late for me,” added the Commonwealth Games gold medallist.       

The World Squash Federation (WSF) are determined to make it third time lucky as they prepare to present their credentials to the IOC’s programmes commission in December.       

One sport will be added for the 2020 Games, with squash competing against the likes of baseball, softball, karate, rock climbing, rollersports and the Chinese martial art wushu.

While the WSF admit previous bids lacked a little dazzle, current chief executive Andrew Shelly believes the sport is ready to showcase itself in whichever city hosts the 2020 Games.       

“We have taken on board the advice of the IOC,” Shelley said as Matthew and fellow Englishman Daryl Selby treated a sell-out crowd to a series of mind-boggling rallies.

“We now have a really good bid. We’re the only racquet sport in which both players are on the same side so it’s gladiatorial and made for TV. “Someone once told me that the Olympic movement is like a train that occasionally stops. We must make sure that when it does, we are ready to jump on board.”       

No stone is being left unturned between now and the decision in Buenos Aires in 2013 and, significantly, squash’s campaign for Olympic inclusion is being overseen by Mike Lee, a veteran of winning campaigns for London 2012 and Rio 2016 as well as rugby union’s successful bid to get sevens into Rio at the expense of squash.       

“There is a long way to go,” Lee, who was also instrumental in Qatar being chosen to host the 2022 World Cup said. “But I think squash has a very strong case.       

“They are making it clear they have listened and learned and innovated in the sport ... made it much more broadcaster and spectator friendly.

“It’s a genuine global sport with a successful men’s and women’s tour. It has a lot going for it.       

“Squash has an opportunity, and you don’t want to lose a third time,” he added.       

The lack of an Olympic medal to dream of has become something of an obsession for the world’s leading squash players, and there is real unity among the current crop to make sure the teenage players of today can become Olympians.

Selby, one of four Englishman in the top 11 in the world, summed it up. “Our leading women’s player Nicol David from Malaysia said she would swap all her six world titles for one Olympic gold medal,” he said.       

“Unlike maybe tennis, the Olympics would be the ultimate for a squash player. London would have been great for me.

“But all the players are doing all they can to back the bid and I would do anything to get squash in there. I would even play naked. We’ll do anything we can to promote it.” — Reuters

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