Squash's Olympic dream at risk from Vladimir Putin's racket

It may be a popular global sport, but hopes of winning Olympic status on Sunday are threatened by a political stitch-up

Just about every muscle-flexing activity known to man – and woman – has jostled to climb aboard the Olympic Games bandwagon. From angling to arm-wrestling, chess to cheerleading, bog-snorkelling to ballroom dancing, darts to dominoes, all seem to think they deserve to share the spotlight of the five-ring circus.

Even sheep-shearing. "The time has come to elevate sheep-shearing's sporting status to the ultimate world stage," pronounced a New Zealand farm lobby group earlier this year. "The world's top shearers are athletes who take it to another level."

Apparently, it is already recognised as a sport in New Zealand and Australia and has pressed for inclusion in the Commonwealth Games. But the Olympics? Surely they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

More seriously, there is an upcoming tussle this weekend for recognition of a genuine sport which has been overlooked too long for deserved Olympic status.

Squash enters the Olympic rings to do battle with wrestling and the combined sport of baseball and softball at the International Olympic Committee's session in Buenos Aires. At stake is a place on the programme for the 2016 Games in Rio.

It is the only new sport under consideration, the other two having been rejected from the Games programme once before.

Baseball and softball, with a relatively limited global appeal, surely have had their day in the Olympic sun.

But the likelihood is that the politically star-struck IOC will be swayed by the highly improbable alliance in which Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, the United States and Iran have joined forces to campaign vigorously for wrestling's reinstatement for Rio 2016 after one of the original Olympic disciplines was controversially recommended for the axe by the IOC's own executive board in February.

Now back in the frame following an orchestrated outcry, wrestling has tarted up its act, changing its president, constitution and most significantly its rules in a belated attempt to make it a less yawn-inducing spectacle, and is 4-7 as the bookies' favourite, with squash at 7-4 and baseball/softball 8-1 outsiders.

Squash recognises that Putin power may now have put the IOC in an arm-lock but the World Federation president, N Ramachandran, remains sanguine. "We are a growing, global sport played in 185 countries by millions across the world," he says. "We offer the genuine prospect of new nations on the medal podium. We would be easy and low-cost to integrate into the Olympic Games with just 64 athletes, two competition courts that can be built in days and we have a great track record of being hosted in iconic locations."

Great Britain has a particularly good record in the sport so the nation's medal tally would quite probably be enhanced. England boasts two of the world's leading players in the men's game, fellow Yorkshiremen James Willstrop and Nick Matthew, ranked three and four respectively, whose long-standing rivalry is akin to the old duel between Seb Coe and Steve Ovett on the track.

Matthew, a former world champion, believes squash has a strong case. "Last time the IOC went for the commercial option [when they brought in golf and rugby sevens] but squash can now claim to be truly global," he says. "It has also become more televisual and we have all the traditional Olympic ideals and many of the modern ones, too. We hold a much better hand."

Women's world No 2 Laura Massaro, the first Englishwoman to win the British Open in 22 years, adds: "We deserve to be included and it was almost painful to watch London 2012 with no opportunity to be part of the nation's success.

"All of the other notable racket sports are in the Games already – tennis, badminton and table tennis – but squash has been overlooked in the past and it has been tough to take when you compete at the highest level on the world stage."

In my view too squash surely has the most compelling argument – and I say that without the sound of grinding axes, never having played the game. For it now seems to tick all the boxes in terms of its growing global popularity, diversity of champions, pure athleticism and increased spectator appeal.

Moreover, it might produce medallists from several nations which otherwise rarely get a whiff of Olympic glory, like the current world men's No 1, the artistic Egyptian Ramy Ashour, 25, aka "the Cairo King", said to be the sport's most charismatic exponent since the Khan dynasty.

His female counterpart, Malaysia's Nicol David, 30, said: "I would happily trade all my seven world titles for the chance of Olympic gold."

When squash made its last presentation to the IOC in 2009, it was outmanoeuvred by an appearance from Tiger Woods. It is hoping for better luck and a shrewder strategy this time, pulling out all the stops, with Andy Murray and Roger Federer among those joining the call for its inclusion.

Whether squash will manage to convince the IOC of the added value the sports brings to the Games in the final presentation on Sunday remains in doubt.

Should, however, wrestling return to the mat it will have been a hapless attempt by the IOC to reform the sports programme, as it will be going into the 2020 Games with the same sports as before the replacement procedure started.

Having been pipped last time by a larger oval ball and an even smaller golf ball, squash does not deserve to be squeezed out again, especially by wrestling. If so, we might as well start counting sheep.

Murray: Squash should be at Rio

Andy Murray has backed squash's inclusion in the Olympics, having played the game when he was younger.

"I used to play at our local sports club," the Wimbledon champion said. "I used to go and watch my dad playing club matches. I like it. I think it's a tough sport.

"It's maybe not the best spectator sport, but it's a very difficult sport to play. You have to be extremely fit, have very good hand-eye coordination, good feel, and good touch. It's another racket sport. When you play one, you tend to like to watch the other ones, as well. I love watching badminton, too."

Paul Newman

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn