Squash: Bearpit sport needs to eliminate racism: Open competition is to blame for the decline in players' behaviour Richard Eaton reports

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The Independent Online
The international career of one of Pakistan's world-title winning squad may be over as a result of the head-butt with which Mir Zaman Gul floored his Australian opponent, Anthony Hill, on the opening day of the British Open.

That incident was unprecedented, but many of the ingredients which created it - prolonged competition for the same piece of territory near the centre of the court, increasingly intense physical and mental stress, and a bearpit atmosphere - have long been part of a professional sport bearing only passing resemblance to its gentlemanly forebear.

Pushing-and-shoving matches have occurred between two of the world's greatest players, Jahangir Khan and Rodney Martin, and after a series of ugly wrestling matches between Australia's Vicki Hoffman and England's Angela Smith in the late 1970s, Smith was once omitted from an England tour Down Under.

Soon after that a referee at the British Open called a dozen women into the changing room and warned them that if they did not cut out the physical contact they risked ejection. Women's squash is in a more ladylike phase these days, and although men's squash has experienced a more contentious few years, the majority of matches have little physical contact.

Nevertheless the hint of conflict is all part of the entertainment. Nor is it restricted to that between players. The Welsh international, Teifion Salisbury, recently got a 10- year ban for an alleged off- court scuffle with the referee in the Yorkshire League, and Egypt's Gamal Awad once had a six-month ban after hurling a racket at a referee and running up the gallery stairs towards him before being restrained by spectators.

Refereeing squash is probably more difficult than any other sport, with instant decisions to be made on the relative positions of three moving objects. Amateur referees are of variable standard while the behaviour of leading players has declined since the game went open in 1979.

Paid referees, and a clearer disciplinary code more firmly imposed, might prevent things from getting out of hand. But some recent conflicts appear to have a more disturbing ingredient - that of racism.

Differences between Pakistanis and Australians have been more frequent and more fractious than between players of other countries, and two years ago the players' association instructed its members to do something about it. There was an improvement, but more recently things have deteriorated. Racist or not, there was a degree of provocation before Mir Zaman Gul's dreadful loss of control on Wednesday.

In a sense, therefore, he was a victim as well as a perpetrator. But a red-blooded and sometimes aggressive sport again needs to act to eliminate racism if it is to remain healthy.