By ALAN THATCHER
The news that squash was not selected as one of two sports to go forward to the big IOC vote in October was disappointing enough. To learn that the sport failed to register a single vote at the IOC meeting in Berlin yesterday was devastating.
Let’s consider that position.
No votes at all. Zero. Nil points. Nothing. A total blank.
That’s where we are, folks. Not even on the radar when it came to the big IOC vote.
In squash terms, it was like the ultimate humiliation of a triple-bagel scoreline.
After golf and rugby sevens got the nod, ahead of squash and four other sports, IOC President Jacques Rogge said: “In the end, the decision came down to which two sports would add the most value.”
That’s protocol shorthand for “these two sports will make the most money for us”. I have written many times in the past about this subject and perhaps Mr Rogge’s admission proves that the IOC places higher value on commercial success than sporting integrity.
We were always led to believe that the ideals and moral values of the Olympic Games meant that we were watching the purest form of sport in the world. However, by adopting a “variety” of a major sport, as in the case of rugby sevens, it is like having the synchronised swimming and diving but without any actual swimming events.
Lots of raw emotions came tumbling out from squash lovers yesterday as the IOC decision was announced. There were bitter criticisms of the IOC on Facebook and various squash forums, plus one or two minor snipes at the squash governing bodies, but let’s examine Mr Rogge’s statement in depth.
In terms of the IOC’s commercial activities, large American corporations who sponsor the Games, and the TV networks that pay large sums for the broadcasting rights, must surely have some kind of input into the decision-making process. We would be rather naïve to expect otherwise.
The TV broadcasters know they can sell prime-time advertising slots for commercials during the golf and rugby sevens competitions, but squash does not enjoy the same kind of profile.
That’s not surprising. I hope I don’t get lynched at the US Open in Chicago for saying this, but ask any American about squash and 99 per cent of them will tell you it’s a vegetable. Most of the other one per cent think it’s a kind of racketball.
If you don’t believe me, set up a Google Alert to have any article about squash sent to your email inbox. You will soon be inundated with all kinds of recipes about what to do with left-over squash.
So, in terms of product recognition, we are not performing terribly well in the world’s major economy.
This is despite a vibrant governing body, a booming College League and a growing number of professional tournaments in the USA, which is rapidly becoming a major magnet for many of the world’s leading coaches.
All things considered, perhaps it’s not too surprising that an excellent presentation by the WSF for a sport that ticks all of the necessary Olympic boxes failed to make any headway.
So, where do we go from here? Our priorities as a sport must be to raise the profile of squash at all levels, increase participation levels, fight court closures and deliver high-quality TV coverage on a regular basis throughout the world.
I am preparing a dossier for the WSF with a selection of ideas as to how we can achieve this and look forward to reporting back in due course.
I do know that one brave individual is attempting to mount a legal challenge aimed at proving that the IOC’s voting procedure in Singapore four years ago, when squash and karate were voted in at the first stage and then removed by a subsequent second round of voting, was illegal.
Alan Thatcher is a journalist, squash’s No.1 TV commentator, a tournament promoter and a club coach. He is also busy with a sports club he recently co-founded in England (called TriSports) which provides sporting opportunities for young people, especially those who are homeless, unemployed or disadvantaged.