Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of International Squash

It doesn’t get on television. It’s never in the papers. It’s not Olympic. In America, I would guess that if you asked 30 random people on the street, 29 of them would have never heard of it. Yet squash is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world, its athletes some of the worlds fittest and it may surprise you that is played in over 175 countries around the globe.

And even in this club amongst the active squash players themselves, how many of them would know who the current world number one player is? Significantly less than half, I’d bet. But, I’d wager just about all of them know who the world’s number one tennis player is…

Squash has been fighting for the recognition it thinks it deserves ever since I can remember picking up that wooden racquet that weighed over 250 grams! Almost thirty-five years later, little has changed. Oh, the racquets have – but the publicity has not. Is that about to change?

Squash, it seems, is also fighting itself. Everyone knows that in order for a business to survive and thrive, all components in that business need to work together towards a common goal. In this case, the growth of the sport. A few months ago I wrote an article referring to the Professional Squash Association’s (PSA) ban of its players to participate in the new US “Pro Squash Tour” (PST) tournament circuit. (See: Joe McManus - PST commissioner (and brain child) - and the PSA attempted to negotiate and solve their differences to no avail. So, the PST sued. In one incident, a PSA player defied the ban and competed in a PST tournament anyway. That player – American Ned Marks – was in turn banned by the PSA for 1 month. He was removed from the 2011 Tournament of Champions event. (PST article regarding the ban: I cannot find any statement from the PSA on this matter.)

McManus recently withdrew the suit. Mentioning high court costs and lengthy trials as the main reason, he has decided to use the money instead towards creating another circuit – the “Premier Squash Tour” and has also offered $100,000 to the first top 10 player who signs a deal to commit to playing the PST. Rumors have it, that Thierry Lincou will be that player. (See:$100k.html) (“Premier Squash Tour” is not the same as PST; they are exhibition type events that cater to the needs and wants of each hosting club, whereas PST is a ranking circuit using the ‘no-let’ rule.) McManus has not been shy of his intentions. As a small example of how involved McManus is in his goals, when I wrote an article on this little blog lambasting the controversial PST’s “no-let” rule (see:, Joe called me personally to a) thank me for the article and b) rationally discuss it. (He didn’t convince me otherwise, but I was definitely felt privileged that he took the time to call and was impressed that he reached out!)

He is in this to make money. He is in this to make money for the players. It’s profit driven. The PSA is not. The PSA board is made up of mainly ex touring pros that are not educated in the field of running an association properly. I'm not trying to criticize here, but it's true. Just because they played the tour, doesn’t mean they know how to operate it. That’s like expecting myself to be able to run the Starbuck’s shop down the street just because I buy my coffee there every day. The PST is a business that relies on being successful in order to survive. Through marketing, advertising, promotion. The product has to be excellent; otherwise they do not make money.

Is that bad for the sport? I don’t think so. McManus is doing something the PSA can’t: raise dollars and the profile of squash in the States. There is an untapped market here. Clubs are private, members have deep pockets. McManus’ events are cheaper and easier to run. However, clubs deciding to run one will not get the luxury of watching Ramy Ashour, or Nick Matthew, or a Willstrop, Gaultier, Shabana, etc. You will have to go watch a top class PSA event for that. McManus tournament players will most likely be top Americans, some club pros, ex-PSA and PSA players at the end (or near the end) of their careers based in the US that no longer tour as much, such as John White, David Palmer, Thierry Lincou. Still top quality – but not quite the best of the best. (On the other side of that argument, talking with club members here there is little difference to them watching a pro ranked 50 compared to a pro ranked 1. It’s all exceptional to them.)

Eventually, that could change. If the McManus tour(s) grow as he is predicting, with more events for more money, that will only attract more players. More players equals better standard. Which could lead to a world class tour rivaling the PSA based right on our doorstep.

PST website:
PST overview:
PSA website:
PSA world rankings Jan 2011:

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