Friday, May 17, 2013

Squash Wrestles With the Past

The recent decision by the IOC to remove wrestling from the Olympic games could spell trouble for squash. 

The decision-making at the IOC is famously obtuse. (For a good peek behind the Olympic curtain, check out Brett Erasmus' blog on the subject, here.) We know they have made some very strange decisions through the years, like allowing into the games some very odd and made-up sports, such as synchronized diving, and like refusing entree for some sports that clearly deserve their ticket into the games, like squash.

Most recently we have been treated to the mystifying decision to remove wrestling from the games, which is perfectly ludicrous. Wrestling is a core sport of the Olympics, it is foundational, it is an original Olympic game, it is iconic and now, at least temporarily, it has been shunned. 

Why? Only God knows, but I smell the acrid stench of politics at work. Internal politics, the kind where one fat-cat weasel slaps the back of another during a closed meeting at some posh resort, and asks, Hey, can you do me a favor? 

Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

That wrestling was kicked out means that some other sport was left in. Look to the weaker sports in the Olympics to find your culprit, the sport that made the backroom deal. Some sports have been mentioned, but lacking any proof I will venture no public guesses.

But for squash lovers I see trouble. Wrestling, now relegated to the same uncomfortable spot where squash, karate, and a handful of other supplicant sports wait in exile, has begun to work a mighty, far-flung PR effort to get the sport readmitted. The sport has declared it is willing to make all necessary tweaks to their program to set aright some of the problems mentioned by the IOC. The sport is important in the US and very big in Russia, Iran, and several of the "Stan" countries, and is truly international (unlike synchro diving!), so the PR effort carries tremendous clout. If wrestling makes some quick changes it may well be very difficult to stop. 

Wouldn't it be horrible for squash to lose out for a third time because the IOC decided to readmit a sport it had just cast out!

We in squash feel like our chances should be good. Our own PR effort has been excellent, and we have professionals managing the campaign. I definitely still feel squash has a shot, but that shot would be much much better if the IOC hadn't decided to expel wrestling. The casting out of wrestling by the IOC may well have been a very dark day indeed for the sport of squash. I hope I'm wrong.


Friday, May 10, 2013

PST Short On Sizzle

I'm on record as saying that the sport of squash needs to do something about the arguing, cajoling, ranting, raving, bickering and jaw-boning that occurs when lets and strokes are called in pro action, and the PST's attempt to do away with, or at least severely limit, these calls was I felt a welcome change. (That being said, the problem could also be addressed by encouraging refs to make it a rule to always adamantly squelch any dialogue and get the combatants to play the game or suffer the loss of points.)

The PST has set up their own tour, but because of on-going disputes with the PSA the players in the latter organization are not allowed to play in the former's events. Animosity developed over PST's marketing approach, which could be cheeky, to say the least, such as their referring to the winner of the annual show-down of the PST's 'elite eight' as the sports 'World Champion.' I don't know much about the politics of this situation and so won't comment on it, but I do know that the two groups are not ready to coexist.

However, this situation has led to a sizzle shortage in the PST.

Because of the PSA lockout there is a tendency in PST tournaments to rely on good local talent to fill out the card, so that good college players show up at the tournaments to get beaten by more established pro players. These are interesting matches as far as they go, but I could see a good match with some 5.5 players at my local club pretty much any day of the week -- what makes these matches tournament-worthy?

There is also a question of desire. I actually tuned into the web-streamed third-place match during the World Champion tournament and watched Mohamed El Sherbini take on Stefano Galifi. The match was not of particularly high quality and included two games where each player opted to hand the other the game. The worst was game two when Galifi, for reasons unbeknownst to this reporter, apparently gave up midway through the game and let Sherbini rattle off 7 or 8 uncontested winners. The next game, that situation was reversed. Sherbini won the match in 5, but those two games were some of the worst 'pro' games I have ever witnessed. 

So there is a question of desire, and that may have something to do with the purse, I don't know. But there's also one more factor you have to remember. His name is David Palmer. Palmer is still playing at world-class level, he could easily go back to the PSA and be top 15 without a problem, and better still with time. The fact is if he joins the draw in a PST match, and cares at all about the outcome, he's going to win. 

And that sucks the life out of the match, because it is like watching a story whose ending you know all too well. Great for Palmer; not so good for PST.