Friday, February 18, 2011

Performance Enhancers in Squash?

Professional sports will always have cheats. Stardom and wealth is a powerful narcotic and to many the path taken to get there is irrelevant, it’s simply where you end up. Naturally I disagree with that sentiment, as I believe overcoming all the adversities, hardships, misfortunes, and whatever hurdles that come your way on your journey towards the achievement are just as important as the achievement itself. To me, a true professional athlete that is to be respected and admired doesn’t only have to have all the titles to his name, but the right character along with it.

In the polls of general opinion, that’s not an earth shattering statement. Take a look at Barry Bonds [pictured], or Marion Jones, or Floyd Landis for example; sportspeople that have achieved the highest accolades in their respected fields, but are now demonized in public because of their drug use. I can’t imagine the fallout if Lance Armstrong is ever proven to be a cheat.

So what about squash players? A sport so physically demanding would surely be the perfect candidate for that chemical edge. On top of that, the tournament schedule for the players is unmercifully brutal. While the PSA have done a better job in spreading out major events, there are still a lot of frequent flyer miles being earned as players supplement their incomes by playing leagues, exhibitions, and other events between tournaments. Traveling constantly back and forth from Europe to the US to the Middle East to Asia, etc, puts an enormous strain on the body. Mental rest is compromised, physical recovery is compromised which in turn compromises maximum performance. And then, injuries occur. Just about every single top player has suffered an injury sometime in the past 12 months. Four top-15 players retired hurt during the World Open last December alone and then 1 week later another 3 retired hurt during the PSA Masters. Wouldn’t drugs help?

Well, yes – sure they would. But, no, I have never heard of any squash player using performance enhancing drugs. Ever. I think the reason for this lies mainly in one thing: money. Squash does not offer large enough purses for players to invest into the drug business. They simply cannot afford it, nor are the financial benefits worth the risk. So on one side of the coin, people complain that squash players do not earn the money that we all think they deserve, but on the other hand, let’s be careful what we wish for. If squash players started to earn millions of dollars, the entire dynamic of the sport would change.

Firstly, the competition and standard would rise significantly. More money will attract more players. No longer would world class players be seen sitting in the crowd during a tournament mixing it in with the general public, making themselves accessible to anyone. Would we suddenly have groupies? Paparazzi? Stalkers? Would players have bodyguards when they move around the clubs? Betting? Match fixing? Referees getting bribed? Would the temptation of performance enhancing drugs be too great to pass up in order to get that extra special edge? One extra win in an event could mean tens of thousands of dollars difference. The list goes on. Fame and fortune has a price. If you think that sounds absurd, there have been drug cheats found in the world circuit of sports such as tennis, table-tennis, cricket, archery, billiards, and shooting, just to name a few. Is it naïve to think that squash would be immune?

Squash is a beautiful sport for many reasons. The fact that it is low-key and that Harry Hacker and Joe Citizen can sit and have a conversation and a beer with Nick Matthew while watching another couple of world class players is a unique attribute very few other sports can boast about. (Pardon the pun!) However, we all want the players to earn their worth and receive the publicity and rewards they deserve.

Can we have the best of both worlds? Is that even possible? Let’s hope squash can reach that financial stratosphere but not spoil the integrity it currently enjoys. Let’s also hope that the only performance enhancers in squash are the purity of the players themselves.

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