Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PSA Called 'Predatory,' and Now There's a Petition To Sign

As I presumed it might, the PSA vs PST dispute is now headed for the courts. The core legal issue is whether the PSA engaged in predatory behavior by singling out PST events over other, similar leagues and tournaments. 

And now there is a petition to sign. For those who feel strongly about the PST, signing the petition is a no-brainer. But even those who think the idea of 'no-let' squash is nuts should consider signing if they want to support innovation in the sport of squash and open up the game to new thinking. To my mind the PSA acted imperiously, without consulting its membership in a significant way. The link is here. It would be nice if these two organizations could have a meeting and work this out. Perhaps decide this on a squash court, maybe a best-of-7 match? Limit the lets, say, to 5??? 

Here is the complete PST release on the suit:

US Based Pro Squash Tour Files Suit to Defend Itself and Its Players
from UK Based Professional Squash Association Ban

Natick, MA (October 26, 2010) — On Monday, lawyers representing the US-based Pro Squash Tour (PST) filed suit in New York state court against the UK-based Professional Squash Association (PSA) and two other defendants for allegedly improperly restricting competition in the United States, including New York State.

The suit is in response to the PSA’s unilateral ban on October 14, 2010, barring its members, under threat of expulsion, from participating in any PST event. PST is challenging this anti-competitive ban to protect players’ rights and to defend itself against this egregious move.  The ban’s unfairness is clearly illustrated by the fact that the UK-based management is solely targeting U.S.-based PST events while allowing its members to participate in any other league, tournament or exhibition match in the world.

“The management in England singled out our successful and growing American tour,” said PST Commissioner Joseph McManus. “And they appeared to have made this decision in darkness without discussing the idea first with their full membership.”

The six-count suit includes allegations that the PSA engaged in improper and anti-competitive conduct by interfering with PST player agreements and business relationships. The suit further alleges that the predatory behavior is being conducted with the specific intent to exclude competition and achieve monopoly power.

PST Commissioner Joseph M. McManus said he wants the players to be free to compete, if they so choose. “The irony is that we are now put in the position of defending players and their rights against the very organization that should be protecting them in the first place.”

More than 150 years old and played by more than 20 million people in 185 countries, including 885,000 in the U.S., squash has shown sustained growth in the US. in recent years. The US based Pro Squash Tour was founded in 2009 and coordinates a tour with stops across the United States. The season begins in September and runs through April.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Open Letter to the Squash Community, From Joseph McManus, PST's CEO

Okay, I've had my fun with photos, but when you get right down to it, no one's laughing. Joseph M. McManus, the commissioner and CEO of the Pro Squash Tour, has just released an "Open Letter to the Squash Community." Here it is, in its entirety:

Dear Squash Fan,

This past week, the management of the PSA without warning announced, effective immediately, that it was banning its members from playing in PST tournaments. 

This blanket ban includes all members of the PSA: world members, continental members, country members, ratings members, and junior members. It also does not discriminate between the world #1 and the world # "last". 

This ban was, moreover, singular in its focus. Simply stated, the squash players on the PSA are free to play in any tournament or event – except for the U.S.-based PST. 

Further, the management induced ban, which is in conflict with its own Tour Guide, was done in complete darkness without input or a vote from PSA members. 

The PSA management's surprise attack on its own members was shocking in its draconian measures and its immediate change in policy was beyond thoughtless. It was heartless. Pro squash players plan their calendars months in advance to effectively balance world tour tournaments with lessons, clinics, exhibitions, and other tournaments and league play. 

And pro squash players are constantly balancing their check books. When tournament fees and player levies to the PSA are honestly accounted for, the total player purse for the world tour is slightly more than $3 million. Divide that by the 500 players PSA says are members and the average professional squash player earns roughly $6,000/ year playing on their tour. 

Now subtract plane flights, meals, hotels, cabs, et al for 12+ tournaments. The average player on the world tour actually spends more money playing on the PSA than he earns. He also has to spend a few hundred dollars in PSA dues before playing a match. You can quickly see that players need to earn money elsewhere. 

On the PST, we pay squash players to play squash. We have no initiation fees. In fact, our tournaments are open to all – without restriction. We are designed to give players who are in the U.S. an opportunity to make money playing squash. 

We also professionally manage every event to ensure a first-rate fan experience. I have personally been on-site for every night of every tournament. This obviously limits our growth, but it improves quality. We are focused on quality. 

Contrary to the PSA's recent public statements, we do not rank our players. Rankings on world tours involve a rolling, 12-month weighted, algorithmic average with divisors and penalties for players in losses. 

Nor does the PST affect the PSA world rankings – unless the PSA chooses to continue penalizing its members for playing on the U.S.-based PST. 

We do give players points for winning matches. At the end of the season, we'll give the top guys a bonus for a job well done. This may appear to be a semantics debate. The distinction is important, however. 

The PST is 1 year old and very new to this international game. There are 185 countries that make up the world squash community. 71 participate in the Commonwealth Games. Of note, the World Squash Federation, a PSA partner, doesn't acknowledge our product as being squash. US Squash, the National Governing body of squash in the United States, makes no mention of our tournaments anywhere on its website. (And all of our events are in the U.S.) 

Moreover, there is one dominant and regularly updated squash news site (www.SquashSite.co.uk) in the world. They are not yet covering our men's event results either. In our entire history, we have coordinated 7 tournaments. 

The notion that our US based tour is a threat to the world tour strains credulity. 

In fact, the management of the PSA has gone to great and creative length to cleverly craft a reason to pick a fight with us. 

If we paid their 10% PSA tax for tournaments to be “recognized” in London, one expects all would be forgiven. 

This ban is merely a case of a bully trying to impose his will on a smaller, weaker and newer kid on the block. 

The great irony is that we are now being forced into the position of defending pro squash players' and their individual rights to the very organization that should be protecting them. 

And we will. 

We will fight to protect professional squash players' rights to earn a living in any country and any tournament they choose to enter. The PSA can end this fight immediately by lifting this ban. 

And I hope they do so. 

Joseph M. McManus
American Pro Squash, Inc. dba PST

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fit and Ready To Play

There is not a lot of fitness training information specific to squash available on the internet. 

One excellent site is a blog entitled "The Science of Coaching Squash," located here. This site is presented by Tim Bacon, a fully certified squash coach and strength and conditioning specialist. Bacon is an experienced fitness guru, and well known in the squash world. Check out his often-entertaining site and learn the science behind coaching squash.

Another resource I've recently become aware of is the Fit and Functional website, found here.This site is run by Charles DeFrancesco, whose Fit and Functional company offers personal fitness training either at clients' homes or at various locations in New York and Connecticut. He also consults for schools and fitness centers. DeFrancesco is also certified at the highest level, and his stable of trainers all are well-certified and some have specific, squash-related experience.

But one of the greatest things about DeFrancesco's website is the free e-book on squash-specific training that is downloadable from his 'education' page. Click here for the book, which I heartily recommend, and get training. The book is 176 pages of information that can help you keep going while others whither and avoid annoying injuries. Check it out.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Delhi Squash Animal

Here's Shera, the mascot of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, having a go on the squash court....

I feel pretty confident I would beat that furry little rodent....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How the BEEB Sees Squash

At the risk of protesting too much, I was interested to read this BBC blogger's report of the squash competition at the Commonwealth Games. The squash tournament was viewed positively in this blog, and he argues that it should certainly by an Olympic sport. Great. But he also comments on the tumult over lets: "There is scope to bully your opponent [and] shout at the officials with seeming impunity." 

And: ..."Both players at times were furiously asking for lets. Getting a let in squash is part tactic, part truth and a lot of bravado. The encumbered party looks angrily back to the panel of officials, miming the action he would like to have taken with his racquet, while the blocker looks aghast and points to some area of the court with palms up and a shrug - the full Mediterranean "What's he on?" The officials have a quick vote between the three of them and deliver a polite "yes, let". The point is replayed sometimes more than once and the sweat goes on."

This is the part of squash that I'd like to say goodbye to.That's why I'm in favor of no-let squash. Does the idea need tweaking? Yes, of course. But I say, 'Tweak away..."

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Pro Squash Tour: Opinion Emphatically Confirmed!

I've opined on this blog on a few occasions that I thought the idea behind the no-let, "Point-Every-Rally" Pro Squash Tour was a great one that rightly places the fan experience first and foremost, where it belongs. The truth is, though, that I had never seen one of these matches, so my opinion was based on conjecture, not experience.

I now can give an eye-witness account of a Pro Squash match held earlier this week at the Sports Club/LA on New York's east side. This was tournament #3 of a tour schedule that now numbers over a dozen stops. The next event will be in Boston in mid-November.

And I say, don't miss it! The no-let match I saw, between US champ Julian Illingworth and Wael El Hindi, the highly creative Egyptian who now calls New York City home, was a grueling battle between two equally determined squashists who were willing to put their all into every shot. Yes, there were a few calls that had to be adjudicated by the ref. I can remember two let-point calls in the entire match, with both players receiving a call in their favor. Most of the time the players played right through, and it was not hard for them to do that in 95% of occurrences. Take for example the front corners, a place where many let calls are made, fished for or blocked over in normal pro play. In no-let, Point-Every-Rally matches, the players quickly learn that if they make an agile, fast stutter-step around their opponent—voila, no interference is made and they are right there, ready to strike the ball. It is a different way of playing, but not hard for these pros to get used to. 

There was a little bumping, but the only serious instance of that came when El Hindi tried to get around Illingworth, tripped and ended up on the floor. There were a few questioned calls, but those few (maybe 3 in the whole match) were close and understandable and were a lot fewer in number than the tens of calls one would normally have in a pro match.

These guys kicked their mutual butts. The play was highly creative. This is a vigorous, intense, forceful, supremely athletic, strong version of squash, and it makes standard, everyday, run-of-the-mill squash seem practically lethargic by contrast. The Illingworth-El Hindi match, which was for 3rd place in the tournament, lasted well past an hour, and that was with every rally ending in a point—it was intense indeed! Illingworth finally won it in the 5th, to a very appreciative round of applause. In the final, France's Thierry Lincou beat Englishman Bradley Ball, 3-0. 

My opinion of Point-Every-Rally matchplay has been emphatically confirmed. You have to check it out....  

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On-Court Grunting: Here Comes the Science

In a past blog I noted the aggressive grunting by top female tennis pros, the likes of which can be quite impressive indeed. Male tennis players are not nearly so loud, but they do their fair share of grunting too. My point was that I thought that squash players should be allowed a grunt or two -- Hey, it's a tough game! -- and that our sport's obsession with insisting that a squash court is a no-grunting zone is a little too old-school for my taste. It's also not good for fans, who want confirmation that their favorite pro is out on court working hard.

Ah, and now the science..... Well, some intrepid psychologists got together and tested whether on-court grunting might have a negative impact on the opponent's game. The study (here) was published in the Public Library of Science ONE, an online, open-access journal. Their main finding is this: "When an additional sound occurs at the same time as when the ball is struck, participants are significantly slower (21–33 ms) and make significantly more decision errors (3–4%) regarding the direction of the ball both for easy and hard decisions alike."

Now, in tennis some of the louder yellers bellow their grunts at 100 decibels or more; in a confined squash court, that would be insanity. So we need to have these same researchers look at squash and quantify the degree at which a grunt goes from an acceptable audible pronouncement to an aggressive and unfair violation. I await the results.....  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ramy Ashour is Number One

No, I'm not talking about Ramy being the best squash player on the planet, I'm talking about his singing. Check this out: 

He should cut a record. I don't know what he is saying, but it sounds damn good to me. He's also quite comfortable performing in front of a crowd, as this video attests. 

Now we know what Ramy will do after his squash career is over. The kid's a great crooner....