Should squash even bother anymore? As the torch was snuffed out in Brazil after the 31st Olympiad, I was irritably content to see it was over. Anybody who knows anything about squash finds it annoyingly difficult to fathom why squash fails time and time again to be a part of the Games. Convincing the IOC is like arguing with an intractably pigheaded child that swears water isn’t wet even though he’s moments away from drowning.
I watched the Olympics on and off for its duration, I tried not to be overly interested and for much of the coverage I wasn’t. ‘Forced’ to watch sports I would normally never consider viewing such as archery, mountain biking, fencing just to name a few, if I lasted more than 3 minutes before I found myself reaching for the remote control, it was because it probably put me to sleep.
But alas, at times, I was magnetically drawn at the immensity of the event as well. How one cannot be seduced by certain athletes and their accomplishments doesn’t compute with me. We all love to cheer for the underdog, but on many occasions I was dearly hoping for the favorites to win and expand their already ridiculously rich trophy cabinets even wider. I made an effort to watch the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Mo Farrah (who fell during his race and still won the gold medal!)… Watch and learn from the best, be inspired. What makes these people superior athletes, able to perform under pressure and under the spotlights not just once, but repeatedly? Traits we should all be emulating no doubt.
For all the extraordinary sporting stories the Olympics offer, the Games offer more than that. Bringing people together from all around the world, no barriers, no dogmatism, the athletes accepted one another as brothers and sisters. A lot can also be learned from that, right? Everyone appeared to understand that concept except for the Egyptian wrestler who refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent. Reports also mentioned that the Egyptian was contemplating not even turning up for the bout just hours before the scheduled match was to take place. Rightly so, he was sent home. I bring this up because – as squash players – we all know that squash lost out to wrestling in the 2013 vote for inclusion. I guess nothing can embarrass the IOC enough.
What I can’t quite make sense of however is the handful of “athletes” that clearly didn’t belong – or deserve – to be there. The Philippine divers for example. Not sure if they were there for comical relief? Or the Ethiopian swimmer who finished the 100m dash over half a pool length behind everyone else… and this gem from the 2012 Olympics in the 400m “sprint”. Why the IOC allow this is beyond me when the Olympics is supposed to be the best of the best of the best… is it not?
Well, most of the time, yes. But not always. Look at golf. (Again, another sport squash lost out to for inclusion). Many of the top men opted out of Rio stating the Zika Virus as the excuse, but Rory McIlroy later admitted in a statement that he didn’t really care for golf being in the Olympics in the first place. It was hardly high on his priority list when compared to competing in the majors. Look at soccer – do the best players in the world play the Olympics? Err, no, they don’t. The Olympics certainly do not replace the World Cup. Do you think the best baseball players in the world will travel to Tokyo in 2020 – in the middle of the MLB season? Again, no. They will not. (Squash also lost out to baseball for inclusion.) So why does the IOC include sports where the best athletes don’t compete, and frankly, have no interest?
How about the sports that require judges to establish winners and losers? Equestrian, Gymnastics, Diving, Synchronized Swimming, Trampoline, to a certain extent Boxing… leaving the result up to the opinion of a few individuals rather than being able to definitively determine who won is a little illogical is it not? You think even a hint of bias doesn’t exist? It’s like when Miguel Cabrera is batting – everyone knows the strike zone gets a little smaller for him when he steps up to the plate. Umpires will flatly deny it, be he gets just about every border line call to go his way… (Go Tigers!)
Squash doesn’t have any of these issues. A winner and a loser are clearly defined without a judge’s help, players respect each other more than ever, and undoubtedly the best players in the world would sell their soul to represent their country in the Olympics.
The 2020 Games are in Tokyo, Japan. Five sports were added to that agenda: 1. Baseball / softball. Full of drug cheats, the best players won’t go anyway. 2. Surfing. Winners are based on judges’ opinion. 3. Sport Climbing. Involves three disciplines: sport, bouldering, and speed. 40 climbers (20 men and 20 women) will compete over four days, and the medalists will be chosen based on the combined results of all three disciplines. Even after googling this, I can’t figure out how somebody wins. 4. Karate. Given the Games will be in Japan, this actually makes sense. But there is already taekwondo and judo, do they really need another martial art? And 5. Skateboarding. This is the one that did it for me. Firstly, I can’t even wrap my head around the fact it is even considered a ‘sport’. In fact many people within the ‘sport’ itself don’t even consider it to be so and reject being a part of the Olympics. Secondly, I can’t find anywhere what type of disciplines will be involved on the Skateboarding ticket come Tokyo. So, do mean to tell me, that the IOC included a ‘sport’ that they have no idea how the competition will even look like? How did that presentation go? “Errr, hey IOC dudes, we’ll just make some gnarly moves and stuff and we’ll all have a wild time… Rad! Here, hold this little baggie for me…” Considering Skateboarding and smoking marijuana virtually go hand in hand, it will be interesting to see how the IOC tackle that little issue.
Given the IOC is openly moving towards making the Games more about ‘attractions’ than actual sports, I fear squash has an even less of a chance to reach its goal of inclusion. The beach volleyball was presented with more a nightclub feel than a sport – is that the new Olympic spirit? Does squash need laser shows and fog machines, score-women parading around in bikinis, midnight matches with music blaring in the background?
I am at the point that I think squash should simply stop trying. Stop wasting the money. Stop wasting the time. Stop the humiliation of be passed up in favor of recreations. I cannot imagine what we would be looked over for in 2020. Maybe the “Pokémon Go” competition? I recently read an article from some scribe who listed some sports he thought would be a positive inclusion. Amongst others (I kid you not): Croquet; Chess; Billiards… squash nowhere to be seen. It seems we cannot even get onto this list!
The next opportunity for squash? The 2024 Games may be in Los Angeles as they are one of five finalists to host. The other candidate cities are Rome, Paris, Budapest (Hungary), and Hamburg (Germany). Since the host city has a say in which (new) sports get added to the agenda, squash would probably stand a better chance if Paris or L.A. got the nod. France is a strong squash country and maybe would stand a fair hope of medaling, and USA have a couple of strong women in the mix with Amanda Sohby and Olivia Blatchford – both would be about 30 years old by then.
But don’t hold your breath. We all know squash should be in it. But if the IOC believe that Skateboarding is more worthy, then should squash even want to be in it?