World Squash Federation Chief Executive Andrew Shelley reviews the sport’s history of being passed over by the International Olympic Committee and suggests the best way forward after the latest snub.
Squash has a long and distinguished history of being snubbed when it comes to getting into the Olympics.
At the 2005 International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting with respect to the London 2012 Games, baseball and softball were taken out, and squash was voted top of the list of sports vying for places. We were in! Then the meeting invoked a rule about a member increased vote threshold and we missed out. The two outgoing sports were not replaced.
Four years later, in 2009, was just after the world financial crash. Squash was beaten by golf and rugby sevens for the two vacant spots for Rio 2016, because it appeared that the IOC needed to strengthen their financial situation.
For the next Games in 2020, IOC made a commitment to remove a sport to make way for a new one to join the programme. Wrestling was removed, only to be replaced by the ‘new’ sport of .......... wrestling!
As we know, Tokyo won the 2020 hosting rights and prevailed upon the IOC to allow them to add host picks. They really wanted baseball and karate too – both hugely popular in Japan. This was granted, the quid pro quo seemingly being that the IOC’s choice of surfing, roller skating and wall climbing be added.
When wrestling returned to become the ‘new’ sport, baseball and squash were the two other sports left on the IOC’s Tokyo shortlist of three – squash being the only new sport. This, it should be stressed, was the IOC shortlist, having dropped surfing, roller skating and wall climbing from it, so now they were putting in sports that they themselves had recently eliminated!
This desire to include youth-orientated activities to enhance the urban street cred of the IOC was clear. And, as we now know, they have maintained this by insisting on these three again and adding breakdancing too for Paris.
The two threads that are clear from this brief look backwards start with the obvious one – that the IOC own the Olympics and it is their choice to make.
The other is that, currently, that organisation has no interest in adding an established sport that is structured, athletic, worldwide, innovative, features a flourishing professional tour etc. I should emphasise that this is not a criticism, simply that it is their Games, their choice.
The Olympics tagline of ‘faster, stronger, higher’ has now morphed into ‘drive for youth’.
Squash isn’t and can never be an activity such as skating or dancing, exciting though they are. Ours is an entirely different product, so where does that leave us?
Should we take it on the chin and try again, mounting a really strong bid, again spending a great deal of money on it? Should we say never again? Or perhaps when the next round takes place for Los Angeles, should we just go through the motions and see how it pans out?
There is also a small clamour for legal action. Against the IOC or Paris and on what grounds is not clear. That is more the province of baseball and karate, who feel a more acute sense of being shafted, having been put in for Tokyo 2020 and removed before they have had a chance to show what they would bring to the Games.
For us, now that the rawness of the latest slap in the face is becoming less acute, we and the PSA have time to take stock and to consider the situation more dispassionately. What does seem to be clear is that until there are signs that the IOC may become more receptive to sports such as ours, we cannot shackle ourselves to the bidding process.
There is little benefit in thinking about ways in which we can position ourselves to making a positive case. We and the PSA must simply concentrate on trying to ensure that the sport and the PSA Tour are flourishing. Of course, we want to secure an Olympic slot, but we will not be so fixated on a very costly and time-consuming effort for each Games. A revised perspective.
(Article 2019 issue 1 reproduced courtesy of Squash player Magazine)
Squash’s presentation party to the Paris 2024 Committee (left to right): Andrew Shelley, WSF Chief Executive; Jean-Denis Barbet, French Squash Federation Squash President; Tommy Berden, PSA Chief Commercial Officer; Camille Serme, nine-time French national champion and six-time European individual champion; Jacques Fontaine, WSF President; Pablo Serna, WSF General Secretary and PSA Board Member; Victor Crouin, European junior champion; Alex Gough, PSA Chief Executive Officer