Thursday, May 30, 2013


Squash has been in this position before. Two new sports were introduced to the Olympic program for the 2016 Games (in Rio). Squash was competing for one of those rare spots and eventually lost out to Rugby 7’s and Golf, something that I still can’t quite wrap my head around that both were considered more worthy. How they lost out was also a little controversial in regards to the way the IOC committee voted. Squash was selected after the first round of voting, but was discarded after a second. It was clear that the IOC wanted sports that can generate advertising dollars. And squash didn’t fit the bill. 
Roger Federer backing the bid with
world number one squash player Nicol David

That golden carrot that was cruelly snatched away from us now dangles once again precariously close to our outstretched fingers. On May 29, the IOC narrowed down the field of how many new sports will be considered to join the 2020 Olympic Games from eight to three. The five sports that were eliminated: wushu, karate, roller-sports, sports-climbing, and wakeboarding. And the three that made the cut: wrestling, baseball and softball, and - thank goodness – squash.

I am a little puzzled, however, at why baseball and softball (who are making a combined bid) made the cut in the first place. Pundits predicted that it had virtually zero chance of getting voted back in after it was cut from the 2012 Games. The main reason being is that the MLB flat out refuse to suspend the baseball season while the Games are taking place. That means that the world’s best players would not be available to compete for their country. I mean, would the Detroit Tigers allow Miguel Cabrera 2 weeks off in August to represent Venezuela? I don’t think so. And, as a Tigers fan, I wouldn’t want them to. The only reason I can see why they made the short list would be money. Baseball is America’s past time. It would still generate more dollars than squash even without major league players. And for softball, America is the best country in the world at it and it would effectively guarantee another medal. That means more advertising dollars too. NBC’s billions of dollars for the Olympic broadcasting rights no doubt carries a little weight. Despite all that, I still don’t think this is much of a threat to squash and I doubt baseball / softball will get in. What does worry me is wrestling.  
Andre Agassi is behind squash too!

Wrestling was shockingly dropped from the Olympic program back in February. An IOC decision that many people weren’t expecting and couldn’t comprehend. Other sports could have made the chop – like the modern pentathlon (I bet you couldn’t name the 5 disciplines). If any sport is supposed to embody the Olympic spirit, be a poster child of a sport that is completely mano-a-mano, then wrestling is it. It is the only sport that (outside of the standard clothing) has absolutely no tools of the trade to assist the athlete. No gloves, no equipment, no special outfits to assist in speed, no racquets… it pits two people against each other and may the strongest, most skilled one win. It has been around since the original modern Olympiad back in 1896.

On top of that, it is also a sport where some lesser ‘athletic’ countries have a decent chance of winning medals. Like Iran. (This, by the way, is the only topic that it sees eye to eye with the USA. USA is also strong in wrestling, and has a lot higher medal chance in that sport compared to squash. An Iran-USA gold medal bout would peak the interest, would it not? Can world politics be an important factor?) Other countries include Cuba. And Turkey. Bulgaria. Uzbekistan. Even Moldova. The IOC likes to look good when the spoils can be spread out. Squash also has that advantage, but in a lesser capacity. Egypt will no doubt still be a major threat in 2020 for the men’s and women’s, there aren’t too many other sports where they would be considered a favorite. Malaysia has Nicol David but she will be 36 by 2020 and will most likely not be competing by then.

So why was wrestling dropped? According to reports, it came down to… you guessed it, dollars. The IOC documents rated wrestling “low” in several criteria for the London 2012 Games. Including popularity, viewership, ticket sales, internet hits and press coverage. It wasn’t generating enough interest, so the advertising dollars would have been lacking. Not good enough that the sport is practically exactly what is required for it to be considered Olympic, what trumps all of that is the fact it doesn’t fill the IOC Olympic sized coffers enough.
Support from the English Rubgy team

And that is bad news for squash. What makes you think that squash will close that financial gap? No one is arguing that squash doesn’t meet all the criteria required to become a part of the Games. All the “official” criteria that is. The “unofficial” prerequisite appears to be how much money can be raised from it. Will it be the decisive issue? If so, then baseball should get in. No one can claim that squash will be more popular than that. But, as I said before, I don’t think baseball / softball will.

Squash’s presentation to the IOC is vastly improved from previous bids. There has been a world-wide on-line push to generate excitement for the sport and there have been many celebrities publicly endorsing it as well. One major advantage squash has over wrestling is that the IOC may be rather reluctant to vote a sport in that it dropped just a few months earlier. They would appear quite ridiculous doing so and it would defeat the purpose of the IOC’s goal of introducing a new sport for 2020. But let’s not underestimate the IOC. Look at what they voted in last time. And, they just elected wrestling onto the short list. What’s more, wrestling was nominated on the first round of voting whereas squash and baseball / softball took several rounds of voting to be chosen. An omen?

If squash were to be elected, the tournament format would be simple enough: 1 men’s singles draw of 32 players and 1 women’s single draw also of 32 players. Thankfully, the softball doubles version doesn’t appear on the menu. I don’t know how the players of each draw would be chosen – whether straight from the world rankings, or 2 players each from the top ranked countries. Either way, a 64 player contingent is very small for an Olympic sport, and only 2 courts would be required to stage the event. Courts, which could be propped up virtually anywhere, and on short notice. So, the cost to run the event, in comparison to other sports is somewhat low. 
Even Diego Maradona has blessed squash
with his "Hand of God"!

The final vote is scheduled for September 8 in Buenos Aires. As will the venue for the 2020 Olympics, which is between Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul. Istanbul would probably be the worst choice for squash as Turkey is a powerful wrestling country. For the next 3 months, the three sports will be promoting, fine tuning, bragging, pleading, and presenting themselves to death to the world, but more importantly to the IOC. Between now and then, there are no major squash events scheduled anywhere around the world, so there will not be a chance to promote the game the best way we know how – by actually playing it. Olympic inclusion would be an enormous infusion of revenue for squash. Government funding, endorsements, publicity, the potential is rather exciting. But we need to grab that carrot.

My feeling? Without question, squash deserves its place. It’s criminal that it isn’t already Olympic. We have an excellent chance, but the skepticism in me thinks the IOC will re-elect wrestling anyway, regardless of how idiotic that would be. It was idiotic to drop it in the first place, and now they have a chance to correct that mistake. If it was any other sport squash was competing against, we’d be munching away on carrot sticks.

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