Squash came very close to being in the London 2012 Olympic Games. This report details how the squash missed out at the IOC Session in 2005.
The race for 2012 was always going to be a difficult one. Not merely due to the competition but also because of the race rules. Most notably, the Olympic Charter states that in order to include a new sport (s) to the programme, an existing one (s) must be dropped. While controversial, this rule could not be changed ahead of or in Singapore. And knowing that we could not influence the decision on existing sports, we focused on what we could impact: being # 1 in the hearts and minds of as many IOC Members as possible, in case the opportunity came up.
So WSF and our Member National Federations embarked on a mission to familiarise as many IOC Members as possible with our sport and our proposal for 2012. Looking back, we all did a good job of defining our messages and how to deliver them. And we all pulled together as one united team magnificently.
We chose to win the hearts and minds of the IOC Members by using a soft, 1-to-1 approach that has been complimented extensively. And we also received acknowledgement for the campaign materials - the Olympics presentation and DVD. But the most important reason why our build-up campaign was successful is because we have a wonderful sport that is practiced and run by a great, united family.
It is because Squash delivers the goods: an intensely athletic and clean sport, role-model athletes, popularity in all continents, ever expanding professional tours, increasing levels of TV coverage and a zest for technology and innovation. It was very satisfying to confirm that Squash is widely recognized as one of the first sports to embrace the Internet. We need to remain on the forefront.
The hype in Singapore was extraordinary. Jahangir Khan, Susie Simcock, Nicol David, Charles Ng and Sukumaran Nair of Singapore Squash and myself were there throughout the whole 117th IOC Session.
Singapore Squash capitalised on the opportunity and arranged a never-ending series of interviews to further expose our case. Jahangir Khan and Nicol David did at least two interviews per day from July 5th to July 8th with wide coverage on the main newspapers including the Straits Times - delivered to the door of every IOC Member!
Undoubtedly the highlight of our campaign in Singapore was on July 6th. The official Opening Ceremony of the 117th IOC Session started at 7:30PM. After the initial speeches by Mr. Rogge and the Organising Committee, Channel News Asia, which was transmitting live to over 20 countries, switched to a live interview in which Jahangir Khan discussed our case. We had the very best prime time and to add the icing on the cake, a public survey on which sport (of the five) should be included in the 2012 Olympic Games showed Squash on top with 47% of the votes!
With London having won the race for Host City and supporting Squash’s inclusion full on our chances looked good. To then see not one but two openings become available surely meant that changes to the programme were inevitable. And when the race was on for those two spots (and all of Squash’s hard work over the past few years was put to the test), Squash came out on top!
Squash was effectively voted into the London 2012 Olympic Games ahead of Karate while Rugby 7s, Roller Sports and Golf were eliminated in earlier rounds of the voting.
With Mr. Rogge pushing for new sports to replace the ones that had been excluded our chances now looked extremely good. Mr. Rogge requested a show of hands to quickly confirm Squash and Karate as Olympic sports and thus thrust us into the programme but the overwhelming negative from the floor indicated that something was not quite right.
The last hurdle proved to be insurmountable. According to the Olympic Charter, a new candidate sport must obtain 2/3 of the vote to be recognised as an Olympic sport. And this we failed to achieve by a significant margin. We needed 70 of the 105 total possible votes with abstentions and invalid ballots counting as “no”. Squash obtained 39 votes in favour with 63 against and 3 abstentions while Karate had 38 in favour, 63 against, 3 abstentions and 1 invalid ballot.
So why did we fail to get even close? On the one hand, the target is unrealistic and the IOC recognises this problem. No sooner the results were in and President Rogge was already talking about lowering the benchmark to simple majority – as is required of Olympic sports. We will of course push for this change in the Charter so that the playing field is level next time around.
On the other hand, the atmosphere in Singapore was not conducive to change. While most IOC Members will say that change is good, 2012 was judged as too early for changes to the sports programme. “You don’t change a winning team” was a recurring theme in the back corridors. Also, as soon as Baseball and Softball were excluded, we had to contend with two unofficial participants in the race. And this we never planned for. To put it bluntly, many IOC Members decided that no sports should have been dropped and that therefore the vacant spots should remain as such.
Lets also face the fact that despite our efforts, most IOC Members know Olympic sports far better than they do any non-Olympic sport. It is only logical after attending so many Olympic Games and working with the Olympic International Federations for such a long time.
So we should all be disappointed and not to try again, right? Wrong!