A niche for squash?

Will squash be considered for inclusion in the Olympic Games? N. Ramachandran, third-time president of the World Squash Federation, is upbeat about India’s prospects

N. Ramachandran scores a hat-trick. It’s his third term as head of the World Squash Federation, only this time it is not a two-year but a four-year term, in accordance with the changes the federation has effected. What is significant is Ramachandran and his team have been given a unanimous mandate to continue, indicative of the squash fraternity’s acceptance of the hard work that has gone into making the sport more visible and television-friendly, so much that it is likely to get the nod for entry into the 2020 Olympic Games.

“The task is not over. It has only become more challenging,” says the Indian official on the eve of a trip to London as a special invitee to the Olympics in his capacity as president of the WSF. Squash is one of the eight disciplines vying for a place in the Olympics and “while we are confident of our third attempt to convince the International Olympic Committee about the positive changes made in the sport in keeping with the IOC’s suggestions, there are still so many more hurdles to clear,” he said.

Acid test

One acid test will be in November this year, when the IOC sends a two-member team headed by Ms Hennah Burns to inspect the Hong Kong Open, a major squash event featuring the world’s best players. The competition will be conducted on a glass court overlooking the Kowloon harbour. “The setting will be idyllic with galleries all round against a graceful backdrop formed by the ships at sea. The matches will also be posted on a giant screen. It will be a spectacle that cannot be missed,” he says. Every aspect of the competition will be observed by the IOC team, including the public reaction to it and whether it can be telecast.

According to Ramachandran, the main challenge would be in 2013 when the WSF would make a presentation before the Executive Board of the IOC, the body that is to decide the core sports to be excluded from the 2020 Games, and those that are to be included. “Hopefully, we will be able to make an impact,” he says, on an optimistic note.

Looking back, he is convinced squash has undergone changes for the better. “These changes were essential for the game to qualify for inclusion in the Olympics,” he says. With that end in view, every aspect right from the scoring pattern (the rally points system is being followed now) to the nature of the court have undergone a transformation. “We are soon introducing side-door entry to the court instead of the present rear entry. This will ensure easier entry for the players. We are also toying with the idea of increasing the size of the ball. Technical committee members are conducting a study. The idea is to make the sport eye-catching,” he says.

Apart from hopping across continents (more than 150 countries are affiliated to the WSF) in connection with the development of the sport, Ramachandran says what he would value most at the end of the day would be the worldwide development of squash, the rising graph of Indian squash and, above all, the structured training he has initiated through the launch of a well-equipped academy in Chennai. “We have top ranking juniors now and if squash gets a slot in the 2020 Games, India has a chance to bag medals,” he says, adding that such an achievement would be a milestone in his administrative career.

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