Squash in the Olympics and The Egyptian dominance – The latest article from Jonah Barrington
What are your views on squash in the Olympics as a whole?
It’s crucial to development and the funding of squash, not just in the United Kingdom, but even more in regard to countries where squash has made an impact in the last 10-15 years. In particular, it’s important where the sport wouldn’t register with the I.O.C. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed! From what I’ve heard, it’s the most comprehensive bid we’ve ever made. There’s been huge celebrity involvement and support and it will be interesting to see what their impact is. Squash has terrific support in all areas and that has been very surprising and rewarding to see and we’ll come back again if we fail. Squash always endures. This is the best position we have been in. There has been sympathy in the past in relation to previous bids, from the sporting world generally, but squash has listening to what’s required this time. They’ve added new technology and rules in- game. Boxes have been ticked to fulfill demands that have been made. It’s still a lottery though I suppose.
How would you see things unfolding if squash were to get in?
If squash was voted in, it’s very difficult to say how things would turn out. In the short term, I’m not sure how we would benefit financially. While the wretched word ‘austerity’ is banded around, it’s hard to predict. ES&R are running things well though in the meantime. In the long term, lots more funding will become available and we would benefit. I don’t think there will be an injection before this Olympics, but for 2020 the funding would come, almost certainly.
How would this affect other countries?
The difference in other countries would be quite immediate to see, with coaches and schools for the provisions they make. The Chinese would become much more interested very, very quickly.
To what effect?
The Chinese look at all sports and assess what the validity is, especially when talking about medals and further prestige and there has been some recent success from Hong Kong. I believe there has been development in squash going on there, but I’m not quite sure exactly what.
How do you think China would look to achieve success in squash?
By their method of getting their children involved and just ‘having a go’. Regards the elite players, you’d see a more robotic process and the workload being huge as they have done with other sports. Nothing would mirror Egypt though. There are seriously big numbers in Egypt and it is because Egypt has so many juniors, added to the consequences of the work load, which results in the top level being outstanding!
Could we ever replicate something like Egypt has in England?
Our system wouldn’t be conducive to produce Egyptian type players, but we do want and are trying to get more juniors involved. With more competition from other sports to capture juniors it’s a difficult situation. Egypt has a very hard-nosed way of dealing with juniors, it’s ruthless over there. They can afford to be like that because there are so many; it’s only the top 5 getting funding. The fewer players you have, the more you have to hold onto them. Wales don’t have the numbers that England has and they would have to nurture those few very differently to what England would do. There is also the argument where it helps to have fewer.
The more junior players you have, the more your likely your chances of having top players at senior level. The bigger the base of the pyramid, the greater the chance of success later on, providing there are good building blocks along the route of course. Early introduction is important, the right kind of introduction where juniors need and want to play on a squash court -and look forward to going! Otherwise they just won’t stay the course.
There are short- term isolated challenges to the Egyptian champions from elsewhere though. Squash is finding its feet in other countries. You’re going to get an individual player who will turn up like for example, Diego Elias from Peru, who won the British Juniors earlier this year. But there won’t be a rival to Egypt in regard to numbers, this also relates to the girls. There is total dominance from Egypt, with the best from the rest at the British Junior Open. They flood into the quarter- finals and the 5 selected get very close to the last 8. You see it again and again, 4 Egyptians in the semi-finals. Although, you do get the odd one in isolation.
What about the Pakistani’s?
They used to always rival the Egyptians.
The Pakistani system is in a state of flux, sadly, without any events being sanctioned by the professional bodies because of the security threat. Again, at a distance, I’m not sure of the domestic programme for youngsters in light of these problems. If one country could have done an Egypt it would be Pakistan. There are lots of similarities between the two as squash courts are considered a safe haven. A lot of poorer children get the opportunity to go to squash courts and it’s a wonderful breeding group for top juniors and top seniors.
Egypt took a long time but once organised they have done a pretty masterful job. They’ve got their act together with a well ordered system.
As far as the British challenge went, where ever Malcolm Willstrop went squash took off. It could have been in the Scilly Isles and squash would have taken off! If there was a Malcolm in every County the squash scene in England would be totally different. The level of play would be unbelievable. There needs to be a catalyst like Malcolm, with an obsession for the sport. There were more volunteers in squash back in the 70’s and 80’s too; you don’t get the volunteers any more with financial impediments. Although, we have managed to do very well and rallied on in the men’s game. There are 2 immensely dedicated players in Yorkshire, in Nick and James – and also the likes of Adrian Grant, Barker, Selby. There all still there at the top.
How will every one contend with the Egyptians?
Probably with our backs to the wall for a period, unless the Egyptian movement falters. No-one would wish this upon them but the country is politically divided. What we don’t want is a wipe out without any of them contending. There’s always a disappointment if there are no English contenders playing in the later stages at the British Junior Open, but we do have a track record of coming through and maturing much later with players; proven by Nick Matthew. Nick was a good junior, but not outstanding. It’s an interesting contrast with James and Greg being very precocious and Thiery was never at the top end as a junior, but by the time Nick and Thiery reached their late 20’s they were immense, world class players.
The norm tends to be a later development and later maturity. Egypt is normally much earlier with more hours going in at a younger age. Regardless of who’s at the top, squash is evolving at a ferocious pace. It does make you wonder; what’s next?