Squash: Sport hopes it is third time lucky in bid to join exclusive Olympic club
After making changes to please the IOC, the sport is confident of winning race to be at 2020 Games
Six days before Christmas the representatives of seven sports will gather in Lausanne to pitch for a part in the greatest show on earth: a place in the Olympic Games. It is an eclectic grouping of sport climbing, karate, a Chinese martial art called wushu, a joint baseball/softball bid, roller sports, wakeboarding and squash.
There will be no early Christmases for any of them as a decision as to which should be added to the 2020 Games will not be reached until next summer, but for the sport of squash a few more months of waiting will not seem an eternity. They have been here before.
This is its third attempt to gain access to an exclusive club. In February the International Olympic Committee will decide which from the current roster is dropped, then in May there will be a last presentation, to the IOC's executive board, which will in turn recommend a single sport to be put before the full IOC membership at their gathering in Buenos Aires in September.
Three years ago in Copenhagen squash lost out to rugby sevens and golf, which make their debuts in Rio in 2016. The sport will begin this round as favourites and the determination of the World Squash Federation to succeed at long last is demonstrated by hiring Mike Lee, who was involved in helping London win the Games and, most remarkably, Qatar clinch the 2022 World Cup finals, to advise on their campaign.
Tomorrow is World Squash Day, a campaign that existed pre-Lee, and one that will see the involvement of some 40,000 players in 72 countries. It is all about backing the bid.
"It will show to the Olympic movement what we do bring to the Olympics in terms of numbers and passions," said Andrew Shelley, chief executive of the WSF.
Squash has been part of the Commonwealth Games since 1998 and it is also included in the Asian, Pan American and All African Games. "We are in everything else," said Shelley. "We would like to make the last step. As a young, healthy, drug-free sport, we've had world champions from every continent. We are genuinely world-wide."
It was rugby and golf's better "commercial viability" that helped secure IOC backing and this is matters a great deal to the IOC. The WSF have worked hard to sell the sport and make it more media-friendly, in particular with the approach to to TV coverage. Courts now have glass walls and floors – the entrance to the court has even been moved from its traditional place in the back wall to the side to improve the cameras' view.
"We have spent a lot of time listening to what the IOC have had to say and we think we are ready now," said Shelley.
Squash will never match the commercial appeal of golf, but it can push its global support. Argentina, Namibia and Korea will compete for the first time at the women's world team championships in France this year.
Olympic recognition would bring financial advantages to the sport and that is why there is intense competition to earn a place. Rugby sevens' involvement has already seen the number of full-time teams rise. China and Netherlands are among countries that now have professional women's teams. Here, it would mean funding from UK Sport towards its Olympic athletes.
Two Britons, James Willstrop and Nick Matthews, are currently ranked one and two in the world, but if squash's time does come there's will be gone. The current generation though are well aware of what an Olympic opportunity would mean.
"I would trade all six of my world titles for just one Olympic gold medal," said Nicol David, the women's No 1 from Malaysia. "Every world title means the world to me – that's how important the Olympics is in my heart."
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