Played by over 20 million people - young and old, male and female, and in over 185 countries - squash has quickly become one of the world's most progressive and increasingly popular sports. In Britain alone over 8500 squash courts are stationed in local leisure and sports centres nationwide with an estimated three hundred thousand players participating in the sport each year. At a professional level, three English females are ranked among the global top ten whilst Yorkshiremen Nick Matthews and James Willstrop occupy the top two ranks in the world. It may therefore come as a surprise (from a Britishperspective at least) that inclusion in the Olympics has been something which has forever eluded squash, and with the exclusion of the sport in the 2012 and forthcoming 2016 Games in Brazil, the question of why is being asked more loudly than ever.
Squash has recently been hailed by American business magazine, Forbes, as the world's healthiest sport. Examined alongside a widerange of other sports and measuring variables, such as cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and calories burnt, squash came out on top with a conclusion revealing that it delivers all these physiological benefits toi ndividuals within just a 45 minute period. With such a prestigious claim, and one which as a player myself I can personally vouch for, it would seem impossible to overlook the sport as a serious contender for involvement in the global competition which exhibits the broadest spectrum of sports. A past hindrance to this prospect, as stated by the Olympic body, is its accessibility for audiences and media coverage which is understandable with a typical squashcourt only allowing a small vantage point behind or above the area of play, for a limited number of spectators. However, as an already established sport in major international competitions such as the Commonwealth Games where in India2011, for example, over 50 matches were broadcast live to viewers, it can easily be seen that squash can indeed be watched by the masses. Besides,doesn't a potential audience of 20 million warrant the effort to make squash coverable and accessible for future Olympics, perhaps even more so than it is now? Already the use of portable glass courts, which can be erected anywhere, have allowed hundreds of spectators to watch squash live at major events on the professional tours around the world, proving that the step-up to accommodating Olympic-sized audiences is closer than we realise and reasonably easy to achieve.
Now judging from its growth and development, squash clearly has the credentials to become an undisputed Olympic sport, but clearly this is not sufficient for the International Olympic Committee. From the perspective of the players and the fans, squash could bring a whole different and uniqueprospect to the Games which would encourage involvement. In financial terms, the portable glass courts can be put up at low cost, taking up minimal space, anywhere -and I mean anywhere! With matches being played in front of the iconicpyramids of Giza, Grand Central Station in New York and in the shadow of London's Tower Bridge, squash has the potential to promote a host city like no other. The professionals themselves are one hundred per cent behind involvement in the Games and are hungry to showcase their talents to a global audience onthe Olympic stage. They will provide what I feel will be a captivating blend ofpassion and drama which would epitomise the amateur spirit traditionally associated with the Olympics.
But it's not just what squash would bring to the Games, as subserviently the Olympics would give back as much, if not more, to the sport in terms of publicity and status. Squash is a dynamic, intense and immenselytactical discipline; the publicity that the Games would provide will no doubt excite, engage and inspire people to take up the sport and take it to new heights. The Olympics is the pinnacle of international sport and a gold medal would be the ultimate prize for squash players, raising the boundaries of achievement and, with potentially over 30 nationalities taking part in theOlympic competition, a whole host of different nations would have the opportunity to win gold for the first time.
The reasons for involvement in the Games just keep adding upand why squash is still waiting in the wings is just beyond me. In September2013, a conference will take place in Buenos Aires deciding which sports will be included in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Hopefully, squash will finally attain the status it deserves and take to the ultimate sporting stage it has aspired to for so long.