Squash received a major boost in Latvia when world number ones Nicol David and John White launched the inaugural WSF Ambassador Programme in the Baltic country’s capital Riga this week.
The new international promotional initiative, devised by the World Squash Federation, was led by the two international squash stars – Malaysian Nicol David, who has topped the women’s world rankings since 2006 and earlier this month won a record sixth World Open title, and Australian-born John White, the former world number one from Scotland who is now the Director of Squash at Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA.
The Ambassador Programme also featured a coaching workshop hosted by Ronny Vlasseks, the Head Coach of the Dutch and Belgian national squash teams, and a refereeing seminar led by Scotsman Ian Allanach, a former WSF top referee and now a worldwide refereeing assessor.
“It’s the first of a series of promotional visits to young squash countries – in our bid to ‘reach out’,” explained WSF CEOAndrew Shelley at a press conference hosted by the Latvian Squash Federation at the Zelta Bowling and Squash Center.
When asked what Latvia need to do to become a successful squash nation, Vlasseks highlighted the importance of a good coaching structure which not only provides support for elite players but introduces and nurtures youngsters coming into the sport.
Shelley pointed out the success Malaysia achieved following the introduction of a system in 1991 when it was confirmed that Squash would make its debut in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998: “Within ten years, Malaysia had both the men’s and women’s world junior champions,” said the WSF CEO. “There’s no reason why the same could not happen here in Latvia with the same commitment.”
White and David were quizzed on their training routines, the secrets of their success and the highlight of their careers. “I will never forget walking into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 1998 Commonwealth Games in KL, representing my country for the first time aged 14, with everyone cheering for you – it was such a thrill,” said David, now arguably Malaysia’s most successful star in any sport.
Interest in the visit led to attendance at the press conference by Latvian Radio, LNT and LTV TV networks – and David being interviewed live on the Radio 101 breakfast programme.
“Squash is a game which perfectly fits the mentality of our people,” said Latvian Squash Federation chairman Aleksandrs Pavulans, the reigning Latvian champion. “We are a small country in squash terms, with six clubs in Riga and two more in other parts of Latvia – but the Zelta venue here is the biggest in the Baltic region, with eight courts together with other leisure facilities.
“The Federation was restructured in 2006 and we now have a national ranking system, a website, and run several national tournaments for seniors and juniors,” added Pavulans.