Squash stars’ search for Olympic recognition

High-octane, fast and furious, physically demanding and tactically absorbing; to the outside observer it may be puzzling as to why squash has failed so consistently to obtain Olympic status. As the Men’s Blues side battled to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Birmingham 2nds, the sport as a whole is fighting its own battle for inclusion in sport’s showpiece event, and this is a battle that Blues captain David Phillips hopes can be won.

“Squash is bidding to be included in the 2020 Olympics. The decision is set to be made in September, and this is the third time in a row that squash has applied,” said Phillips. The sport is eminently watchable; action-packed with the capacity for thrilling rallies to rival any exchange at a Wimbledon final. So why has the IOC been so reluctant to accept squash into the sporting elite? “I think everyone involved in the game is baffled. It just fits in. Previously there have been problems with viewer accessibility but now they have these incredible glass courts, with seating all around. Squash can now host big audiences  – there’s going to be a spectacular showcase at Grand Central Station in New York – and the TV coverage it gets now is great.”

Indeed, on the evidence presented by this match, the game seems to tick all the boxes necessary to become a popular addition to the greatest sporting show on earth. The contest hinged on Phillips’ match against Peter Fozard, but despite being 2-1 up, Phillips unfortunately succumbed 3-2 as Birmingham took an unassailable 3-1 lead into the final pairing. As it was no.1 seed Nelson Fung then blitzed his opponent in an imperious display to prevail 11-6, 11-3, 11-8.

Earlier it had proved a disappointing day for the Portz family as Alex (Oxford) lost 0-3 to his opponent Harry Taylor before Owen Riddall levelled the contest at 1-1 by beating Alex’s younger brother Christian (Birmingham) 3-1. Yuan Sum’s 3-1 reverse then put the pressure on the skipper to win his game to set up the tie for Fung but Phillips was unable to take advantage of an encouraging start and ended up on the wrong side of the contest’s closest match-up.

Phillips however was not disheartened by the defeat and spoke positively of his side’s progress. ‘Birmingham are unbeaten this season so we’re proud of the 3-2. The season’s gone well so far, we’re second at the moment and we should have a promotion play-off in a couple of weeks. We have a fresher (Riddall) in the top 5, who is a promising player, so we’re pleased with progress.”

The Blues have added reason to be cheerful with the prospect of a master class from former world no.1 and six times British Open winner Jonah Barrington as their preparations for the Varsity match on the 16th of February intensify. “It’s the climax of our season. We’re going down to Millfield school in two weeks to prepare and we’re incredibly lucky to be going down there to be coached by Jonah.” The squash side can thus look forward to an exciting season as they pursue both their own lofty ambitions whilst inevitably keeping more than half an eye on developments to come in September.