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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?
Thanks to Wikipedia, SquashInfo, and the TopMediaNG, Nairaland and Naija Squash Media websites.
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.
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.
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.
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 squashculture 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 squashstoriesand artefacts I may not have encountered much in the manner as one might throw a bone to a hungry dog.
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 acquiredsquash 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.
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.
Thanks to PSA Squash TV for covering the 2019 CIB Egyptian
Squash Open and an anonymous friend for photographing the poster.
As someone with his finger on the pulse of world squash (no, really), I have to admit that a recent article in The Times came as a bit of a surprise. It drew my attention to the existence of the multi-event sport of racketlon which not only incorporates squash as one of its four racket-based activities but also has a global governing body vying for its inclusion in the 2024 Olympics. Not only that, but a bit of digging around the racketlon press revealed that the 2019 World Team Championships had just been held in Germany.
Well, so much
for fingers and pulses.
players compete individually, or as part of doubles pairs, in each of four racket
sports: table tennis, badminton, squash
and tennis. One ‘set’ is played in each sport, the sequence of sports beginning
with the smallest (table tennis) and ending with the biggest (tennis) racket. Squash slots in at number three in the
matches each of the four sets is scored to 21 points, with a margin of two
points needed to win a set tied at 20 points all. In team competitions, sets
are played to 11 points with setting coming into effect at 10 points all.
of a match is the player or doubles pair accumulating the highest number of
points in total. If the score is tied after all four sports, a single extra
tennis point is played to decide the
match winner, the server being decided by drawing lots.
In doubles matches, the squash set is played by one member of each team until one player reaches 11 points; the set is then completed by the two remaining team members.
Racketlon originated in 1980s Finland and Sweden but it wasn’t until 2001 that its first international tournament was held in Gothenburg. Now, its governing body, the Federation Internationale de Racketlon (FIR), oversees a World Tour which, in 2019, consisted of 20 tournaments held at venues in Europe, the US and Asia. These included an inaugural London Open, held in August at the prestigious Roehampton Club, and, in November, the World Singles and Team Championships in Leipzig. And it was in Leipzig that Great Britain lifted the World and Nations titles for the first time with India winning the Challenge Cup tournament.
Racketlon has obviously come a long way in the thirty years since its first appearance. With its format modelled on other combination Olympic sports such as the triathlon and pentathlon, and with squash again being passed over, perhaps racketlon can help to raise the profile of the soft-ball game.
Eagle and Evans was an episodic Australian TV sketch show first screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004. The series was set in a fictional variety show “The Blaze da Silva Experience”, the main characters, Eagle and Evans, being the warm-up guys for da Silva himself, the self-titled “most loved man on television”.
In reality, they hang around in the green room trying to put off anyone they think might do a better comedy routine than them. But what they really want is to score a proper guest spot on the show.
In this squash post-match interview sketch, Craig Eagle and Dailan Evans give an honest, if cliche-ridden, analysis of their on-court performances.
Thanks to Wikipedia, IMDB, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and YouTube.
with his finger on the pulse of global politics, I recently came across an
article which managed to address, simultaneously, the international development
of squash and the departure of the
United Kingdom from the European Union, also known as Brexit, i.e. the
departure not the EU.
I refer, of course, to the issue of the “Irish backstop” which is, effectively, an insurance policy meant to ensure that the land border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland remains open (as it is today) whatever the outcome of the UK and the EU’s negotiations about their relationship after Brexit.
“But what’s that got to do with squash?” I hear you say. Well, quite a lot, as it happens. Consider the following. The development of squash in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of Ulster Squash which supports the development of players through its “Player Pathway” from talent-spotting to World competition. The eagle-eyed amongst you will, of course, have spotted that the name “Ulster” actually refers to a province in the north of the island of Ireland made up of nine counties, only six of which constitute Northern Ireland. The remaining three (along with a further 23) are located in the Republic of Ireland, making a grand total of 32 on the island as a whole. Clear? Then consider this.
Ulster Squash works in partnership with Irish Squash, the governing body for the sport on the whole of the island of Ireland. Irish Squash itself is recognised by Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland and the World Squash Federation. Most importantly, squash is, in the context of Irish sport, a cross-border sport along with Gaelic games (such as hurling), rugby, cricket, hockey, golf, boxing, tennis, table tennis, rowing, swimming, triathlon and, last but not least, motorcycling. For the record, there are also partitioned sports such as football (soccer to US readers), martial arts and motor-sports, all of which are governed separately north and south of the Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland land border.
In a cross-border sport development context it is, unsurprisingly, the border that’s causing pre-Brexit concern. In the case of squash, for example, cross-border competition is a key part of the development strategies of both Ulster Squash and Irish Squash. Currently, the border isn’t a barrier, in any practical sense, to the movement of players, coaches and supporters between venues. In fact, people can move freely between the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands within what’s known as the Common Travel Area, an informal arrangement which existed before the UK and Ireland joined the EU in 1973. So, there are no official passport checks if you’re travelling from Belfast in Northern Ireland to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland to London in mainland UK.
the exit of the UK from the EU, however, there is concern that the border will
become a “hard” border complete with border posts, barriers and passport
controls. Understandably, the potential for a “hard” border is a
vital concern to business communities and farmers who have become used to the
free movement of goods. But the ending of the free movement of people could also cause a problem for the operation
and development of cross-border sport in Ireland.
A recent article for Radio Telefís Éireann (RTE) states: “In terms of the governance of Irish sport, it is clear that the vast majority operate on the basis of a “soft” border to ensure cross-border competition. While no border is designed specifically with sport in mind, the potential for disruption to sporting activity is enormous. Even for a sport already partitioned along what will become the UK-EU land border, the potential for disruption is clear.
“More worryingly, it is often suggested that the return of border infrastructure could lead to such equipment or the officials operating that border becoming the target of dissident republican violence.” Another
reason, perhaps, for those negotiating Brexit to turn their attention to the
issue of Irish squash development.
I think that
letters to Michel Barnier and Boris Johnson are in order, don’t you?
RTE, Ulster Squash, Irish Squash, Full Fact and Wikipedia.
For Part 1 of “Hijab Stories” go to the following link.
In the space of a few days in early August, I stumbled across two stories connected by a common theme: female squash players who represent their countries in international competition…and who wear the hijab.
The first story covered the final of the World Junior Womens Squash Team Championships held in Kuala Lumpur. As has become de rigeur in recent years, the final was contested between Egypt and another country, this time that country being the hosts, Malaysia. Both finalists in each of the other competitions taking place at the Championships, namely the Mens and Womens Singles, were, yes you’ve guessed it, also Egyptian.
But it was Malaysia’s 17-year old first string, Aifa Azman, that caught my attention by virtue of the fact that her kit incorporated a hijab. Although Azman lost her match to Egyptian first string (and just-crowned Junior Womens Singles champion) Hania El Hamammy, her performance in winning the first game pretty much demonstrated that, in squash at least, dress codes have adapted in recognition of the nature of the opportunities presented by international competition.
The second story described the experience of 12-year old US squash playerFatima Abdelrahman. En route to play in a tournament in Toronto, Abdelrahman had, according to news reports, cleared security at San Francisco Airport to board an Air Canada flight. Travelling with her older sister, she was reportedly asked by a ‘gate agent’ to remove her hijab, apparently without being given the option of doing so in private.
Irrespective of the circumstances, the social media storm triggered by the incident is, at the time of writing, still going strong. Yet, unlike Aifa Azman’s participation in a squash tournament, the Abdelrahman incident demonstrates how a single human conversation lasting seconds can generate so many secondary communications, between individuals not actually present at the time, unfamiliar with any of the people involved and, almost certainly, unaware of the existence of squash. Whether or not any of those communications will ultimately be helpful to any of the parties involved in the incident, I’ll leave for others to judge. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on looking for stories which celebrate a sport which, in my opinion, can compete with the best.
There are some sports which certain countries are just really good at. We’re talking New Zealand and rugby union, Brazil and football, and Kenya and middle distance running. Well, it might surprise you that an African country dominates the sport of squash. In this short film, BBC Sport Africa’s Isaac Fanin looks at why Egypt is so good at squash.
OK, so I admit that this BBC Africa feature passed me by when it first appeared in 2018. However, when I did unearth it, it did inspired me to look further afield for explanations as to Egypt’s current domination of the game.
Here’s a reason for Egypt’s success given in an interview for Culture Trip by current World number 1, Ali Farag. “We had a lot of champions growing up so there was always someone to look up to and aspire to emulate,” he explained. “Those players were always generous to give us advice or step on the court with us. We’re all concentrated in Cairo or Alexandria so we can play against each other unlike in the United States, for example, if people are in different states and not concentrated in one or two cities.”
Farag’s explanation is echoed by fellow Egyptian and former World number 1, Amr Shabana in an article for The Atlantic. “There’s a quote that says ‘you’re only as good as the people around you.’ Around us were the best players – maybe not the best in the world, but we thought they were. This is the main reason squash thrived,” Shabana said. “Everybody pushed each other.”
In a 2014 article for Serious Squash, Canadian coach Chris Hanebury states, “I know people in Egypt could confirm or deny this and make a better argument on this subject, but I feel that creativity and attacking squash is not frowned upon, and is actually encouraged. They are continually reinventing how the game is played. Even though this may mean a few errors in the short term, these young players are learning to play a style of squash that better suits the glass courts and the lower tin.
But let’s leave the last word to Amr Shabana who, in a 2018 Express Tribune article, offered an explanation suggesting the superior ability of Egyptian squash players to exploit the incredible speed of balls travelling at 175 kilometres per hour or more.
Shabana compared the ability to manoeuvring Cairo’s sometimes chaotic streets behind the wheel of a car. “It’s like our driving,” he explains. “Under pressure, our decision-making process is very sharp.”
Plenty of scope for some innovative coaching techniques there then.