For many it may be surprising to learn that Squash has never been in the Olympics, nevertheless Squash is of course worthy of being an Olympic sport by the Latin definition : Citius – Altius – Fortius, Faster – Higher – Stronger.
Unfortunately this motto is as old and irrelevant now as the language it is written in, I would suggest Eximius -Pecuniam – Lucrum might be more fitting for the modern age.
Such is the case, that vast amounts of money are spent by sporting organisations in the attempt to secure inclusion in this Corporate Showcase, even sports such as Snooker have thrown their hat in the ring as they recognise the commercial impact such inclusion could bring.
So let me state quite clearly I am not a fan of the Olympic Bid by Squash, we have applied before, been shortlisted before and been rejected. People will tell you that Squash deserves its Olympic place, as the video shows below, yes of course it does, so the exclusion of it is just daft…so I say, move on, we have bigger fish to fry.
But what? I hear you cry, is bigger than the Olympic Games?
In my opinion, the World Championships and The British Open, The Tournament of Champions and in fact any event on the World Series Tour, these are annual events and ones with much more history and prestige than an Olympic Gold medal.
Jumping Through the Olympic Hoops
The Tokyo 2020 Additional Event Programme Panel is currently examining new applications and a shortlist will be announced on 22 June 2015. Should Squash be on that shortlist there will more hoop jumping, submissions and money spent until the final decision which will be made by the 129th IOC Session in Rio in August 2016.
I am not going to wax lyrical here about whether Squash deserves a place, it is an awesome sport which ticks more boxes for qualification than many already included, the format and the way the game is presented today arguably has never been better, but…
…is Squash commercially ready for the Olympics? Because for me, that is the elephant in the room and it is the only one of the IOC boxes that Squash simply does not tick.
The Business of Sport
If Squash wants to compete today as a ‘mainstream’ professional sport then it has to make a decision, is it happy continue to run the sport in the twee fashion it has for decades where it predominantly relies on charity and volunteers to run the infrastructure, or is it time to run the sport as a big business, because unless it is run as a business, which currently it is not, Olympic inclusion or not, there will never really be the money in the sport that others in their chosen fields enjoy.
And that is why I fear a ‘Yes’ decision from the IOC, because whilst the nod of approval will certainly attract greater funding opportunities to the game, it won’t fix the inherent problem that Squash is not being run as a business.
To come back to Snooker, could it possibly beat Squash to gaining an Olympic place? it sounds ridiculous but this is a sport that has proved that with the right people at the helm who truly know how to commercialise sport like Barry Hearn who has increased the annual prize money of their sport to more than £8 million, even two people with a couple of sticks calmly tapping shiny balls around a table can monopolise thousands of hours of mainstream TV scheduling and millions in sponsorship.
Squash Needs Celebrities
Sports like football, cricket, rugby, tennis, formula 1, snooker etc. are watched by millions upon millions, none of whom even play those sports themselves, they are just fans, not players, Squash on the other hand is predominantly watched only by those who play Squash and in truth it isn’t watched by many of them either.
So how does Squash appeal to a wider mainstream audience? Well even if someone were to want to watch Squash it is rarely screened on TV in any suitable production and I would suggest that restricting the sports only premier window, the online SquashTV as a subscription service is a massive mistake not only from a potential event sponsors point of view but also to anyone keen on investigating the private world of ‘Professional Squash’
This is why the big tick missing from the IOC box is ‘Celebrity’, nobody knows who any of the worlds top Squash players are, even Nicol David who is the only player with any kind of a high public profile worth mentioning, outside of Asia is also practically unknown.
To my knowledge, my grandmother never played tennis or snooker, but she will avidly tune in to see how Andrew Murray gets on at Wimbledon and throughly enjoys a bit of afternoon snooker on the telly, she knows all the players names, they are in her living room and she feels like she knows them.
And this is where the Olympics and commercialisation ask just one question, how many pairs of eyes are watching?
Squash must address this anonymity problem before anything else, it is not the job of the players, but the governing body, the players should concentrate on training and doing their thing on court around the world, it is the managers of the game that need to step up and change their negative conventional thinking towards the game and its perceived commercial limitations.
Squash players are without doubt of Olympic calibre, the business of Squash however, is not…