We know where the 2024 and 2028 Olympics are going to be. The next question on the table is which sports will be there. And even with six years to go until 2024, squash is already winding up the spin cycle.
Since the inception of the IOC’s Agenda 2020, each host city is allowed to hand-pick some sports to be featured on the Olympic program. And this time around, squash has (lest we say it) a French connection. The new president of the World Squash Federation (WSF), Jacques Fontaine, is Parisian, and has made it clear in no uncertain terms that he intends to campaign for the sport’s inclusion in 2024 on his home turf.
In the latest WSF bulletin, Fontaine writes, As WSF President, I will use every opportunity at my disposal at home and internationally to push for squash to be part of the Paris edition. Squash is united behind our dream at every level, and essentially, we have full collaboration with Professional Squash Association to jointly make our bid.”
Whether the sport will make it to the 2024 Olympics is still up in the air. However, according to an article in Inside The Games, at least on first sight, squash seems to have all the right ingredients:
· History (it dates back to the 1830s)
· Global reach (last year, 47 countries hosted tour events, featuring players from 74 nations)
· Popularity (there are more than 20 million players worldwide, including 1.6 million in America, according to US SQUASH).
· A place in other multi-sport events (it made its Commonwealth Games debut at Kuala Lumpur in 1998, it has retained a presence at that event since that time), and squash will additionally be a showcase sport in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. It has been a part of the World Games, Gold Coast Games and Pan-American Games as well.
· TV ratings: More than one million TV viewers reportedly watched the men’s singles final at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
But its track record hasn’t been good. It has long lobbied for Olympic inclusion and has had high-profile misses in the final selection for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Games. (Here is a synopsis of those years and how squash eventually lost out.)
What will squash be up against for 2024 that could be a tough competitor? eSports for one, which is an extremely hot, fast-moving, high-profile competitor. It has the youth demographic the Olympics want, and the Paris2024 campaign has not ruled out its inclusion. Fontaine, to his credit, has set a tenor for squash’s campaign, and has made it clear that campaign will not include criticism or denigrating of other sports.
“It is not for us to evaluate other sports,” he said. “We wish everybody luck as they project themselves, we don’t concern ourselves about other sports and the number of places - only looking at the one we desire for squash. Every sport, game and activity is different. Each has a market and attractions. We wouldn’t try to make comparisons.”
Fontaine, despite his dignified approach, will be a tough competitor when it comes to negotiating a place for squash on the podium. And to be fair, he has a lot of good cards to play, many of which relate to squash’s strength, history and placement in the country, and on the international scene. The French city of Marseille has just hosted the WSF Men’s World Team Championship. France’s Gregory Gaultier is currently the world men’s number-one player. Camille Serme, who won the women’s US Open and British Open, is sitting at the number-three spot. Fellow countryman Victor Crouin was the men’s runner-up in the World Junior Championships. In the first decade of the Millennium, Thierry Lincou was world number-one.
In addition, with the strong cooperation between Paris and L.A., it’s also probable the squash bid will get some love from America, in the person of Amanda Sobhy, the highest-ranking U.S. woman in the game (she currently is at the number-seven spot in the world, and is expected to be a continuing force). In addition, the U.S. has seen strong participation in the sport at the college and club level. The Squash + Education Alliance (SEA) is another key player in the U.S., with clubs that assist disadvantaged youth with not only learning the sport but with encouraging them to remain in school and move on to college.
The Olympic torch in Paris may be far from lit, but the fire is already burning in the squash world. And this time, officials are hoping, they won’t be burned.