Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Olympic Squash Doublezzzzzz……

You would think that as the WSF (World Squash Federation) prepare their bid to finally get squash onto the Olympic agenda for the 2020 games, they would put their best foot forward, showcase nothing but the finest the sport can offer. Highlight the athleticism, the unfathomable fitness levels of the players, the world wide diversity, there are so many positives to draw from as the list goes on and on. With their 2020 bid brochure, you can be the judge whether or not they have achieved just that: 2020 Squash Brochure  

Lots of pretty pictures. Even though I don’t like the presentation of the pages where there is only text, it’s not too bad. What you don’t see is any reference to squash doubles. If squash gets accepted into the Olympics, it won’t only be the singles version receiving medals.

I’m not talking about the US doubles version – the hardball version we play at the DAC – I’m talking about the softball doubles version. Yes, the version I bet none of you (DAC members) not only have never played, but have never even seen played. Or even seen a court. Or even know where to find one. Or know the rules. Or – most importantly – care. So why on earth does squash doubles need to be included?

Alas, this red-headed stepchild subspecies of squash exists. And if squash is successful in its bid, it will be Olympic. Since no one is familiar with it, you can click here to view a sample. If you can force yourself to sit through at least the first rally of the clip – which takes 1 minute and 26 seconds – world number 1, James Willstrop (the one in the red shirt), hits the ball only once – 59 seconds in. Otherwise the majority of the exchange is comprised of the two ladies having I-can-hit-it-harder-than-you cross-court practice. It looks like they are warming up. Clearly they are making every attempt to avoid hitting it to either of the fellas – who may as well not even be standing on the court. It is not just dull, it’s embarrassing and absurd – it’s everything squash singles isn’t.

Squash is part of the Commonwealth Games. In 2006 in Melbourne, squash doubles made headlines not because of the quality of the game, but for the sheer boredom of it. Now, this has nothing to do with the players – they are fighting for medals and understandably will do what it takes to win for their country. Even if it means staying on the court for hours. Which they did. The Men’s final was won by England over Australia three games to one. Thankfully there was not a fifth game – the four they played took 3 hours and 17 minutes. Zzzzz... Zzzzz... Zzzzz... I am a squash addict, but I much rather stab myself in the head with a pitchfork than have to watch 200 minutes of squash doubles.

Is this the advertisement the WSF wants to present to the Olympics? Because if it is, why isn’t there any indication (photos) of doubles in the brochure? And if it isn’t, why is it on the agenda?

The doubles court is obviously larger than the singles court. It’s the same length, but wider. A lot wider. In fact it’s over 6 and a half feet wider at 27.63 feet. How they came up with that measurement is beyond me. Even converting it to metric, its 8.42 meters… seems an awfully random number.  And the tin is lower. The tin of a normal sized singles squash court for amateurs is 19 inches high, of the clip above, the tin is 17 inches high. Now, in order to make the doubles game more ‘exciting’, the WSF just announced it will lower the tin to 13 inches. Improvement? Sure, I suppose. It couldn’t be worse. Hopefully it will make the matches shorter and prevent anyone crazy enough to actually watch it from slipping into a catatonic state. But in reality, the entire idea of including doubles on the Olympic program should be scrapped. I believe it hurts squash’s chances of being accepted rather than helps.

So why is it in the discussion in the first place? There is no international doubles ranking. Nor is there a doubles tour. Hence, the players competing are hardly doubles ‘specialists’. The only time these players actually play doubles is during special competitions such as the Commonwealth Games. It seems to be there solely for the purpose to award more medals. Is it an Olympic requirement (in which case, squash has no choice but to shoot itself in the foot), or, is it because the WSF feels they need to be just like tennis, badminton and table tennis where they do have legitimate doubles categories? It’s not as if the players have dedicated years of their life training and perfecting their craft for the doubles court.

Squash should be Olympic. There is no doubt about that. But it should be squash singles. And only singles. Nick Matthew, James Willstrop, Ramy Ashour, Greg Gaultier (amongst others) – these guys are the heart and soul of what our phenomenal sport is all about. It’s a waste of time forcing them to play doubles. WSF should pour 100% of their efforts into the singles game, sell to the Olympic Committee the reasons squash is the greatest of all the sports. You cannot possibly do that with doubles in the mix.

The Olympic Committee will make their decision on which sport to include into to 2020 Games in September 2013.

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