Squash Player Data: Facts and Fictions

After recent reports in the Indian media of Saurav Ghosal’s lockdown experiences come the views of the current world men’s number 13 on player data, personal privacy and, er, gossip.

The background to Ghosal’s comments lies in the commercial partnership between the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and Sports Data Labs (SDL), a US provider of “human data technology”. The purpose of the partnership is to help the PSA utilise “in-game human data solutions to provide human performance metrics for its live broadcasts, as well as for player optimisation and training purposes.” The popularity of personal ‘fitness tracking’ devices may be one reason why the PSA is exploring the use of player data to attract more interest in the sport.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (Unknown but not Mark Twain)

The player data in question includes such physiological information as distance covered during matches, speed and heart rate which, even now, is displayed on courtside screens during some major tournaments. The PSA knows that, under EU and UK law, ownership of this data belongs to individual players and that their personal consent to its use, and re-use, has to be secured on an individual and, presumably, commercially-agreeable basis.

To complicate matters, not all relevant national and supranational (e.g. EU) laws require the same level of protection for individuals against the collection, storage and use of their data without their personal consent. The concept of ‘personal privacy’ also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. US law, for example, does not recognise the right of individuals to opt out of the automatic collection and use of their personal data for marketing and other ‘re-use’ purposes, e.g. by social media companies and their advertising clients.

Other national personal privacy laws unsurprisingly reflect their countries’ political cultures and social norms. India’s recently-implemented legislation, the Personal Data Protection Bill, follows the EU and UK models as does that of Qatar. The Indian law, however, makes specific reference to certain categories of data, some of which could be regarded as falling under the PSA / SDL player data category, e.g. health data, whereas others such as biometric and genetic may not. In contrast, Egypt’s soon to be implemented Data Protection Law applies only to companies and their responsibilities for protecting the personal data of their employees.

In light of such a complex, and evolving, legal situation the question naturally arises as to who has the legal right to assess the risks, costs and benefits to individual players associated with the sharing of their personal data, and for what purpose?

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)

To date, Saurav Ghosal has not signed up to the brave new world of player data monetisation but recognises the commercial need for squash to engage with a world increasingly characterised by social media gossip and the popular obsession with statistics. While some may regard player data and derived statistics as being of subjective interest, others may not or remain either disinterested or sceptical. “An ideal heart rate can’t be set as a target,” says coach and current Secretary General of India’s Squash Rackets Federation, Cyrus Poncha. Commercialising access to player data may, it seems, be more effective in attracting the attention of some statistics-loving spectators than in helping coaches or players to improve their approaches to training and performance.

Cyrus Poncha

The question also remains as to whether any objectively-valuable player data will ever be collectible using human data technology. As Saurav Ghosal says, “Things like a good read on the game and the mental side cannot be measured. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic are all good, but they are made differently – which can’t be calibrated.”

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, The Indian Express, Top Indi News, PWC India, IAPP, DataGuidance and SportBusiness.

Indian Takeaways

Straight from the world of Indian social media comes the news that current men’s number 13, Saurav Ghosal, is to host a new web-based chat show. In “The Finish Line”, he’ll interview eight of India’s best-known sports stars including tennis player Leander Paes and five times World Chess Champion, Viswanathan Anand. The show promises to explore how top athletes overcome the odds to achieve success as well as providing Ghosal with an opportunity he would probably never have had were it not for the impact of coronavirus lockdown and travel restrictions on his life as a world-ranked squash player.

The Finish Line series trailer

It remains to be seen whether Ghosal’s interviewees will touch on the role of dietary discipline in their strategies for sporting success but Ghosal himself described his own lockdown-imposed approach in a recent interview for “Double Trouble”, another web-based chat show. Adhering to a standard breakfast / lunch / dinner schedule, Ghosal’s philosophy was, simply put, ‘eat what you make’ using healthy ingredients. The sole exception to this regime is to bake a cake every ten days and eat a piece after dinner to satisfy his sweet tooth cravings.

His fellow interviewee on “Double Trouble”, current women’s number 10 Joshna Chinappa, has a different strategy: miss breakfast by not waking up until after noon; have a pre-workout light lunch; eat dinner at around seven in the evening and snack on crisps until bed-time at 1.00am. She does not eat chocolate.

I know which approach I’d prefer.

Sources

Thanks to DNA India, Baseline Ventures and YouTube.

Music From The Masses (‘Squash’) – Open Music Art Project

It’s not often I stumble across squash art projects although it’s always gratifying to see the game being used to inspire off-court artistic creativity. I’ve written previously about American artist Carlin Wing’s ‘Hitting Walls’ series of squash-themed art installations. Now here’s another ambitious multi-media project in the form of German artist Matthias Fritsch’s ‘Music From The Masses’.

Between 2008 and 2014, Fritsch created a series of 16mm film clips each of which was the length of a typical music video. The clips were made available online and could be downloaded by musicians, composers and sound designers anywhere in the world who wanted to create ‘soundlayers’ for them. Over the course of the project, 10 clips were produced, the first being “Squash”, a collage of on- and off-court video sequences.

The soundlayers for ‘Squash’ reflect different genres of music including electronic, jazz, pop and singer-songwriter. The ‘techno’ contribution below is from Taiwanese artist HANHAN and is called ‘Body Attack’, a feeling I’ve certainly experienced on a squash court.

Over the entire course of the ‘Music From The Masses’ project over 300 soundlayers were created by participants who were then able to use the resulting High Definition videos for their own commercial and non-commercial purposes. ‘Music From The Masses’ was intended for distribution on video portals such as YouTube as well as for exhibitions in museums and galleries. The work takes the form of an ‘open edition’ project and it’s possible to add new compositions and variations indefinitely. This generic model of recycling and generating new videos is intended to resemble ‘YouTube-Reality’ where material is added continuously and is in constant flux.

If you’re interested in how Matthias Fritsch conceived and executed ‘Music From The Masses’, take a look at his 2011 lecture below.

And, if you’re interested in creating your own soundlayer for ‘Squash’, why not visit the project’s ‘Open Call’ web page? You never know where ‘Squash’ will take you.

More ‘Squash’ Soundlayer Videos

Squash Art– A mashup of four pieces of music by Benjamin Fetscher and Dana Hocker (Leiphaum, Germany).

Kingsize – An electronic soundtrack by HIBISCUS (Murcia, Spain).

Der Gegner – An Independent – Jazz – Pop soundtrack by Müller und Die Platemeiercombo (Braunschweig, Germany).

Wegweiser – A singer-songwriter / Liedermacher soundtrack by Fabry (Germany).

Genre Fusion – A soundtrack by Daniela Schmidt (Los Angeles, USA).

I Need Your Voice! – A soundtrack by Martin Horu25et (Germany).

Sources

Thanks to YouTube, Vimeo and TechnoViking.

Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane?

With the suspension of the PSA World Tour, the folks at PSA SquashTV have outdone themselves in posting a diverse range of consistently interesting content to, er, divert the locked-down squash lover.

This has included compilations of isolation trick shots, player interviews and the sight of Sarah-Jane Perry being upstaged by her own cat. However, my own personal favourite was this ‘blast from the past’ from the 2010 Tournament of Champions in New York.

Just so you’re clear, the occasion was a match between a left-handed Scot playing as an Englishman (Peter Nicol) and a right-handed Australian playing as a Scot (John White. That’s about all you need to know.

Paul Coll? Eat your heart out.

Sources

Thanks to PSA SquashTV.

Trump Sort Of Used To Love Squash – Unofficial

Fordham University is a private research institution whose campus is located in the Bronx neighbourhood of New York City. Established in 1841, the university is the third-oldest in New York State and, together with Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School, the base for activities organised by City Squash.

Founded in 2002, City Squash is a not-for-profit after-school programme which helps young people from economically disadvantaged households develop strong characters, improve their academic performance and become competitive squash players. The success of the programme can be measured in terms of national squash titles, 110 of them to be exact, the last three being won at the SEA Team Nationals in March 2020. As part of the programme, Fordham provides City Squash with access to its classrooms and squash courts. Also, dozens of its students volunteer every year as City Squash academic tutors and squash coaches.

As recently as 2010 City Squash partnered with Fordham to replace the university’s five North American standard courts with four international standard squash courts, complete with spectator viewing facilities. Fordham’s original ‘narrow’ courts had been used for the hardball version of squash played by notable alumni such as then Queens resident Donald J. Trump, later to achieve success as a businessman, television personality and, er, President of The United States of America.

Former squash player Donald Trump. Fordham University’s 1965 squash team from The Maroon yearbook. (Courtesy of Jake Shore / The Fordham Ram)

In a 2018 article in The Fordham Ram, interviews with fellow alumni paint a picture  of what the current POTUS was like during his two years at the university. Many remembered him fondly and many more didn’t remember him at all. The consensus among friends, acquaintances and observers of Trump described him as an affable young man, even if he did keep his distance from other students. Some admired Trump’s abilities in sports, including football, golf and, during his freshman year, squash where he played on the team.

One interviewee, Brian Fitzgibbon, said he was friendly but not friends with Trump. They both commuted from the same area of Queens, and they would say hello whenever they bumped into one another.

“He was a bit of a loner all those years ago and I really can’t recall his being close with anyone,” said Fitzgibbon. “He complained to me on one of our rides to school that there were too many Italian and Irish students at Fordham. He wanted me to know that I was excluded from that comment.”

Although, whether anybody else was the article doesn’t say.

Sources

Thanks to The Fordham Ram, Fordham University, Poly Prep and City Squash.

Squash – Competitive Dad (Comedy Sketch)

Running from 1994 to 1997, with specials in 2000 and 2014, The Fast Show was a BBC comedy sketch show relying on stereotypical characters, recurring running gags and catchphrases.

Played by Simon Day, Competitive Dad has to be the best at everything, tormenting his long-suffering children, Peter and Toby, with constant challenges they can never live up to. Sport is Competitive Dad’s biggest interest; from cricket to tennis, fishing and, yes, squash.

Watch, in horror, as he beats Toby 9-0 (it was hand-out scoring in those days, remember) without serving a single returnable ball before boasting about his victory to his wife on the telephone.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that Competitive Dad’s serves at 2-0 and 4-0 didn’t land between the cut and out-of-court lines so Toby should have become hand-in. However, I’m not sure that the result would have been any different.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia and YouTube.

2-Dot (2013) – One Minute Video

A squash ball fights back…


Stumbling across stuff on the internet can help you unearth a wealth of interesting information. Not only that, it can send you off on a voyage of discovery leading to other interesting (and not-so interesting) information tenuously linked to your original stuff-stumbling experience depending on how far you want to go.

Take this one minute squash-themed video from 2013 by Aroneus Shorts. It’s one of a series of entertaining short videos, some of which feature “Wally”. After watching the videos, I am none the wiser as to whether Wally is: a) a person or b) a dog. Neither am I any the wiser as to the identity of any of the performers appearing in the videos or their directors, producers, video photographers or music directors. And does Aroneus Shorts even still exist?

Despite the mystery, let’s just hold onto the image of a squash ball with attitude clinging to the backhand side wall and a public information sign depicting a pair of shorts. That should be enough to be getting on with.

Sources

Thanks to YouTube, Aroneus Shorts and, of course, Wally.

Nigeria Squash

Having previously written about the inexorable rise of Egyptian squash, it’s refreshing to share some recent stories from another African squash-playing nation with ‘wannabe’ aspirations: Nigeria.

International Competition

In the context of international competition, Autumn 2019 saw history made as Babatunde Ajagbe became the first-ever Nigerian, male or female, to play in a PSA tournament final losing to Canada’s Michael McCue in the Kiva Club Squash Open in Sante Fe.

Babatunde Ajagbe at the Men’s World Team Squash Championships 2019

Three months later in Washington DC, Ajagbe led Nigeria’s four-man squad in the Men’s World Team Squash Championships, the first time that the country had taken part in the competition for 20 years. Drawn in Pool B with England, Wales and Canada, the team put in some strong individual performances eventually finishing in 21st position by beating South Korea and Singapore in the 21st-23rd place play-offs.

Yemisi Olatunje 2019

In 2019 Nigeria’s top woman player, Yemisi Olatunji, also competed in two PSA tournaments held in North America, reaching the second round of the Granite Open in Toronto and the Queen City Open in Regina. She also competed in the London Open in the UK where she lost 3-1 to England’s Alicia Mead in the first round.

Domestic Politics

In the context of Nigerian domestic politics, early 2020 saw the appearance of squash in the national media in the person of the nation’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The Veep, sporting a worn-the-right-way-round baseball cap, was pictured playing squash with his son on a suspiciously pristine private court at his residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State. The Professor was playing “to get fit” reported the Nairaland Forum website although some below-the-line comments were somewhat less charitable.

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo 2020

“Imagine. What vice president of a country starts the new year playing squash – with tax payers money!” raged one. “This kind of extravagance by the office of the vice president is mind boggling! The man is supposed to be at his drawing board working out how to fix the rot of 2019 but here he is playing squash!”

The Veep’s fitness regime, however, was defended by another website commenter:

“What should he have started the year doing? Dining with you in your one-bedroom shack?”

Sometimes, its better just to let people get on court and play, isn’t it?

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, SquashInfo, and the TopMediaNG, Nairaland and Naija Squash Media websites.

Laura Massaro and The Queen

Browsing, as I occasionally do, the Lancashire Evening Post, I recently came across a headline which inspired me to further explore the British honours system or, more precisely, the relationship of the British honours system with squash.

The headline, of course related to the news that “Chorley’s world championship squash player, Laura Massaro” had been honoured with an MBE in the 2020 New Year Honours list. Chorley is, of course, the Lancashire town which is the home not only of Massaro but of the popular fruit-filled pastry the Chorley cake which could possibly be one of the cultural factors contributing to her exceptional squash career.

Laura Massaro

However, back to the British honours system which has its origins in Anglo-Saxon times when monarchs are known to have rewarded their loyal subjects with rings and other symbols of favour. The arrival of the Normans in Britain in 1066 further led to the introduction of knighthoods as part of their feudal government of the English. Britain’s modern system rewards individuals’ personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom or to Britain’s Overseas Territories, and consists of three types of award; honours, decorations and medals. The awards are presented personally by The Queen or a member of the Royal Family, the majority of investitures taking place at Buckingham Palace in London.

In the case of squash, Laura Massaro joins five other British players who have been awarded honours during the last 30 years. Three of the five are women, Guernsey’s Martine Le Moignan and Norwich’s Cassie Jackman each receiving an MBE with Guernsey’s Lisa Opie receiving an OBE. Cassie Jackman’s squash career also saw her competing as Cassie Campion. The two men awarded honours are Inverurie’s Peter Nicol, awarded an MBE, and Sheffield’s Nick Matthew, awarded an OBE. All six players are therefore either Officers (OBE) or Members (MBE) of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service.

The Queen

Honours may also be awarded to individuals who are citizens ofcountries outside the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories which have the Queen as their head of state. Squash players belonging to this category include Australia’s Geoff Hunt (MBE), New Zealand’s Susan Devoy (OBE and, subsequently, CBE) and Australia’s Heather Mackay (MBE).

So there we have it. Later this year, Laura Massaro will be invested as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace where, I understand, the post-ceremonial refreshments will be excellent.

Time for a celebratory cup of tea and a Chorley cake I think.

Sources

Thanks to the Lancashire Evening Post and Wikipedia.

Squash Tournament Poster of the Year 2019

OK, I’ll admit that I don’t spend much time scouring squash club notice boards, internet websites or street signs looking for posters advertising squash tournaments. But wherever I am or whatever I’m doing, my squash radar is switched on, sweeping the environment for tell-tale signs of squash life. A bit like a squash archaeologist wandering through cultural landscapes, if you will.

Not only that, friends and family members are well aware that sniffing out traces of squash culture is a feature of my behaviour and actually provides me with what is, to them, a form of pleasure as inexplicable as it is baffling. So much so that some amongst them have been known to indulge me by drawing my attention to squash stories and artefacts I may not have encountered much in the manner as one might throw a bone to a hungry dog.

Final of the 2019 CIB Egyptian Open between Ali Farag and Karim Abdel Gawad

In the case of a Belgian friend with absolutely no interest in squash or, for that matter, dogs a recent event occurred which demonstrates the power of acquired squash autosuggestion. Walking through the arrivals hall at Cairo’s International Airport, she noticed a colourful poster in the style of an ancient Egyptian tomb painting. Further examination showed it to be for a squash tournament, the latter stages of which were to be staged outdoors at a site overlooking the Pyramids at Giza.

Equipped, as always, with a smart-phone and the patience to wait until she had a clear field of view, she took a photograph of the poster, a copy of which arrived on my own phone shortly afterwards. I present it here in the hope that I will not be breaking Egyptian copyright law which I understand does not prevent artists from drawing images of the monuments or historic sites, as long as said images are not exact copies.

Poster in the Arrivals Hall of Cairo International Airport

So, as long as no tombs are unearthed which depict an anonymous Pharoah holding a squash racquet being offered squash balls by a servant girl, I think I’m safe.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV for covering the 2019 CIB Egyptian Squash Open and an anonymous friend for photographing the poster.