We may be pants at tennis, the jury is out on rugby and there certainly won’t be many Brits breasting track and field tapes in 2012, but we can hold our heads high when it comes to one of the world’s most gruelling sports. Now confirmed as the most demanding of racket sports (more strenuous that tennis and more dynamic than badminton, more tactical than racquetball), squash was once described by the great Jahangir Khan as being locked in a cage for a fight to the death with a mortal enemy and if you ever doubted this was so, last Thursday’s two-hour-plus battle between the two top English players, James Wilstrop and Nick Matthew (both of whom had scythed through the international field in the earlier rounds) in the ISS Canary Wharf Classic would have sealed the case.
The IOC may have conspired to keep us out of the medal tally in 2012 by including two new events (only one of which is a sport in my book) and rejecting squash’s bid for adoption, but with four of our men in the world top ten and three of our women (not to mention two who have defected to other countries) English squash is alive, well and kicking ass. Australians like Hunt, the Martin Dynasty and the Grinham sisters, the Khans of Pakistan and Tierry Lincou and Greg Gaultier of France come and go, but Britain’s consistenc has been challenged only by Egypt and the like of Amr Shabana, Ramy and Hisham Ashour, Karim Dawish, Wael El Hindi and Ahmed Barada back to Mousa Helal, Ali Abdelaziz and Mo Asram in the seventies.
My idea of a sport is a titanic struggle between supremely fit athletes. Forget golf, snooker, curling and all the pseudo-sports, real sport is combative and sweaty and takes everything the participants have physically and mentally, including a level of skill that is only possible as a result of years of total dedication. If you want to know what it looks like take a look at www.psasquashtv.com, sign up for a day pass (Its only £3.00) and watch the replays (including the ISS Canary Wharf Classic, semi-final).
Despite having some very rich tournaments these days, mainly courtesy of investors from the Middle East, where the sport gets the recognition it deserves, the sport’s plethora of governing bodies (the PSA, WSF, WISPA, England Squash and all the national associations) have, sadly struggled to develop their brand, which, having addressed the issue of the scoring system and un-TV-friendly courts remains the sport’s only obstacle to recognition by the IOC and other international sporting bodies. Hopefully they’ll get their act together soon.