Nicol David International Squash Centre courts in dire need of repairs

Worn out: Broken tiles on the floor outside a court at the Nicol David International Squash Centre. Several courts here are in poor condition. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Once the pride of Penang as a top-class sports facility that produced several international players, the Nicol David International Squash Centre in Bukit Dumbar is now a sorry sight.

The building owned by the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) could well be mistaken for an abandoned site – the surroundings are full of overgrowth, and the atmosphere is dense and chilly.

The Jalur Gemilang, Penang state and PBAPP flags still fly on the poles outside but they are old and tattered, just like the complex.

Inside the building, students and players continue practising on courts that are “in need of urgent repairs” to meet international standards, according to a former committee member of the Squash Rackets Association of Penang (SRAP).

Expressing his disappointment with the centre’s management, he said only his love for the sport kept him from resigning.

“There are 12 courts but four are reserved for tournaments and professional use.

“The other eight are in poor condition. The management has refused to open up the reserved courts even though the rest are occupied.

“The floors are uneven in some courts, posing injury risks. As a player, I have voiced concern numerous times,” he said.

He further alleged that the top management, dominated by “influential individuals”, had lost control over the centre’s operations, with some senior coaches taking over the helm.

“They are also influential in deciding who joins the association and who gets elected,” he said.

Squash Rackets Association of Penang president Datuk Linda Geh admitted that the association is struggling to maintain the complex with limited external funding.

“We are now seeking quotations for the upgrades and repairs and have spoken to PBAPP, which owns the place, and the state government.

“Some of the ageing floors, which are over 20 years old, have started to shift. It would cost millions for the repairs,” she said.

She said the PBAPP last refurbished the complex in 2000 when Penang hosted the Malaysia Games (Sukma).

It was then turned into an international venue with the addition of the four gallery courts and an air conditioning system.

However, Geh said that unlike badminton courts, it is harder to earn money from renting out squash courts.

SRAP charges RM10 (RM5 for students) for players to use the court for a 45-minute session from 12.30pm to 4pm, and RM12 for all to use from 4pm to 9.30pm daily.

“Unlike badminton, squash focuses on talent development rather than revenue generation,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Geh said the complex would continue to host events, including the National Junior Circuit from May 15-19 and the 20th edition of the Penang Malaysian Junior Open from June 11 to 16.

Former national squash legend Datuk Nicol David declined to comment on the condition of the centre named after her.

PBAPP, too, refused to comment.

The complex was where the eight-time world champion Nicol first played the game and was spotted as a player.

Now, the state squad bound for Sukma Sarawak in August are training there, along with 16-year-old national junior player M. Nickhilesvar, a former Under-11 British Open Junior champion.

Initially known as the Pepsi Squash Centre, the sporting hub was opened in 1987.

It was later renamed the Nicol David International Squash Centre in August 2010.

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