Brutality

When a former World Number 15 squash player suggests that you check out a video of a memorable PSA Gold tournament rally, you may not be fully aware of the context behind said player’s reason for doing so. Enter Australian PSA TV commentator Johnny Williams who, during a marathon semi-final between Mohamed El Shorbagy and Joel Makin at the recent El Gouna International tournament, drew viewers’ attention to a 2018 encounter between the same two players at the Channel VAS tounament in Surrey, England.

During the 155-stroke rally in question, Makin’s heart rate rose to 195 and stayed there for a considerable part of the 4 minutes and 8 seconds exchange. That El Shorbagy and Makin must have reached a level of fitness which would enable them to sustain such a rally is to state the obvious. But, during his career, Williams himself was a typical product of the famously tough Australian squash endurance training culture, once running 32 consecutive 400 metre circuits (separated by 45 second ‘rests’) with each circuit taking less than 75 seconds.

As always context is key. But one thing seems certain. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of on-court competition for many squash players doesn’t seem to have translated into a lack of endurance fitness. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect.

Sources

Thanks to PSA SquashTV, Wikipedia and YouTube.

The Real Squash Housewives of Beverly Hills

I may have a terrible memory but I’m pretty sure that no squash-themed sex story has ever appeared in the pages of The Hollywood Gossip blog. Yet that’s exactly what happened recently with the revelation that Barstool Sports CEO, Erika Nardini, had been having an affair with a ‘married squash coach’. Not only that, but Nardini’s investment banker husband had signed her up for lessons with said coach, Yvain ‘Swiss’ Badan, as a Christmas present.

By way of context, Barstool Sports is a digital media company that produces blog, video and podcast content focused on sports and pop-culture. In stark contrast, The Hollywood Gossip is a celebrity gossip blog with the latest entertainment news, scandals, fashion, hairstyles, pictures, and videos of ‘your favourite celebrities’; at the time of writing, its coverage focuses on such globally-popular reality TV series as ‘The Bachelor’, ‘Sister Wives’, ‘90 Day Fiancé’, ‘Teen Mom’ and ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’.

Yvain ‘Swiss’ Badan

Any doubts as to the veracity of the ‘married squash coach’ story would appear to have been put to rest by its appearance in Page Six, another US celebrity gossip, er, organ, and, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the well-known UK squash news sources The Daily Mail and The Sun. There is, as one would expect, enough detail in the coverage of the story to form the basis of a screenplay for a straight-to-video film or a teleplay for a squash-themed reality TV series, or both.

If that’s not an opportunity to insert squash into the global consciousness, I don’t know what is.

Note: On reflection, I think it’s possible that the The Hollywood Gossip may well have printed a squash-themed sex story in the past. I may not have recognised it at the time but, then again, I’ve got a terrible memory.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, The Hollywood Gossip, Page Six, Barstool Sports, The Daily Mail and The Sun.

Crowded House

I recently analysed England’s Sarah-Jane Perry’s dramatic 2020 Black Ball Open victory over Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy in the form of a series of shots into the tin at game- and match-ball. Apart from the squash, the match was notable for the socially-distanced Cairo crowd’s vociferous support for the home favourite. Perry’s vocal support was less vociferous due partly, I suspect, to an absence of English supporters who were not only confined to their homes under the terms of a pandemic lockdown but banned from leaving Blighty to boot.

In my analysis I contrasted the Cairo crowd’s involvement in the match to that of the non socially-distanced Doha crowd at the 2014 World Open Championship final.

In that 90-minute contest, Cairo’s Ramy Ashour, returning from a six-month injury lay-off, defeated Alexandria’s Mohammed El Shorbagy 14-12 in the fifth. The cacophony  generated by the spectators reflected divided Egyptian loyalties, the victory of a much-loved ambassador for the game over an up-and-coming star, and the sheer drama of the match as it unfolded. Let’s hope we’ll all hear something similar again.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, PSA SquashTV and Youtube.

Squash In A Safe Zone

Around this time of year the attention of squash followers hailing from one of the 6000 islands of the British Isles has traditionally turned to the National Squash Championships. In 2020, the Championships took place in Nottingham but, this year, were replaced by a stripped-down England Squash Championship held at the National Squash Centre in a traditionally cold and wet Manchester.

The four-day event was restricted to senior men’s and women’s tournaments, participation in which was limited to players on the basis of their individual need to comply with the Covid-19 guidelines of the national jurisdictions of their places of residence. The Championships were also re-structured, each tournament consisting of group matches followed by semi-finals, fifth / six and third / fourth place play-offs and a final.

The men’s tournament was won by Declan James who overcame George Parker 3-1 in 64 minutes. In the women’s tournament, current Black Ball Open champion Sarah-Jane Perry beat the unseeded Georgina Kennedy 3-0 in 23 minutes. Both beaten finalists were winners of the England Squash Challenge tournaments held at the same venue in November when, for the record, it was equally cold and wet.

After the Challenge and September’s Manchester Open, the Championships were the third Covid-safe and audience-free squash event held in Manchester in the last six months. Next month, it’s Cairo’s turn to stage a major event when the CIB Black Ball Open returns only three months after the completion of 2020’s delayed tournaments.

Whatever the Covid-safety arrangements, one thing’s for sure. It’ll be warm and dry outside.

Sources

Thanks to PSA SquashTV, Dailymotion, England Squash and SquashSite.

A Question In The House

With a global pandemic raging, a national lockdown in force and participation in most indoor sports suspended, it might be thought unusual for the business of the UK Parliament’s House of Commons to be debating the inclusion of squash in the Olympic Games. Yet that’s exactly what happened in the Chamber on January 12th, 2021 following a submission by former Welsh Ladies number one (and current Member of Parliament for Neath) Christina Rees.

Christina Rees MP

True to form, Rees had previously secured a similar Parliamentary debate in 2016 and obviously wasn’t going to let the small matter of a worldwide coronavirus outbreak put her off her debating stride. Her speech which amongst other things identified current Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford as being an accomplished squash player, came just over a month after Team GB’s failed attempt to register a petition to get squash into the Olympics. Rees also name-checked Tesni Evans, Joel Makin and referee Roy Gingell as role models for promoting the game and Welsh sport in general across the world.

The UK Government’s response was provided by Nigel Huddleston, MP for Mid-Worcestershire, lapsed squash player and holder of possibly the longest job-title in Government: Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Huddleston, in textbook political language, offered moral if not material support to his colleague and suggested that the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham presented the best opportunity for promoting squash globally in the near term.      

Well, I’m no judge but given their respective squash pedigrees, I reckon that Christina Rees would take him out in three.

Sources

Thanks to Hansard.

Tin Star

As the basis of a game plan for winning a prestigious PSA World Tour final against an in-form 20-year old defending champion playing in her home town, it looks a bit, well, risky.

Game 1: At 2-2, hit the ball into the tin in successive rallies and lose the game 4-11.

Game 2: At 9-10 down, hit the ball into the tin.

Game 3: At 10-9 up, get your opponent to hit the ball into the tin.

Game 4: Save two championship balls. At 11-10 up, get your opponent to hit the ball into the tin.

Game 5: Go 5-8 down. Then, at 10-9 up, get your opponent to hit the ball into the tin.

Yet, in the last women’s tournament of 2020, that’s exactly how England’s Sarah-Jane Perry became CIB Back Ball Open champion, overcoming Egypt’s Hania El Hammamy in Cairo.

Coming from two games and two match balls down, Perry eventually closed out the match in 75 minutes to add to the 10 PSA titles already in her locker. Which, of course, goes to show that some game plans can really pay off.

As comebacks go, Perry’s, in its own way, ranks alongside Ramy Ashour’s against Mohammed El Shorbagy in the 2014 World Open Championship final minus, sadly, the latter match’s deafening spectator involvement.

But with hopeful signs that squash across the world will soon be able to re-emerge from its enforced hiatus, let’s look forward to the sounds of the game being played, and appreciated, with energy and passion.

Even when it’s punctuated by the sound of the ball being hit into the tin.

Sources

Thanks to Squash TV and Squash Info.

Shetland Squash

What with all the Covid-19 pandemic coverage clogging up the news media, it’s easy to overlook the far-reaching impact of shifting global geo-politics on squash. Take the case of the Shetland Islands which, for the geo-politically challenged, is an archipelago off the North-East coast of mainland Scotland. At the time of writing, Shetland has 71 cases of Covid-19 out of a population of around 23,000, a third of which lives in its main town, Lerwick.

Community

Squash in Shetland is centred on the town’s squash club, founded in 1979 and boasting three singles courts which can be converted into two doubles courts. Considering the location of Lerwick – equidistant from Aberdeen in Scotland and Bergen in Norway – Shetland’s squash connections stretch around the globe by virtue of its participation in the International Island Games.

Puffin Squash Player (Lerwick Squash Club)

Founded in 1985, the Games are now contested every two years by representatives from 24 islands and island groups including Greenland, Rhodes, Menorca, St Helena and The Cayman Islands. Squash has featured in the Games four times, beginning in 2005 and, most recently, in 2019. Unfortunately, the 2021 Games, due to take place in Guernsey, were recently postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Independence

Although Shetland has tasted squash medal success in the Games, its future geo-political status is uncertain. The imminent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union has fuelled the demand for Scottish Independence led by the Scottish National Party. The situation has recently been complicated by calls for Shetland to remain part of the UK (as a British Overseas Territory) in the event of Scottish independence; in other words, to become independent of an independent Scotland.

Up Helly Aa Festival, Lerwick

To further complicate matters, Shetland culture is extremely diverse having been shaped by 5000 years of habitation by North Atlantic peoples from the mysterious ‘broch builders’ to The Picts and The Vikings. By way of illustration, Shetland’s annual Up Helly Aa festival includes a torchlit procession through Lerwick culminating in the burning of an imitation Viking galley.

Beyond Scottish Squash

When it comes to participation in squash, Shetland follows the lead of Scottish Squash whose current BounceBack initiative is intended to help clubs start re-introducing competitive squash in a time of pandemic uncertainty. But future geo-political trends may provide the islands with a wider choice of squash partners, not only by virtue of their geo-political status but also by virtue of the links to other island squash communities worldwide.

Sources

Thanks to The Scotsman, Shetland Heritage and Wikipedia.

Welsh Squash Ball Physics

For squash enthusiasts, there’s probably nothing more educational or fun during a COVID-19 lockdown than investigating the physical properties of squash balls. Take the following practical lesson based on a 2019 physics GCSE examination paper set by the Welsh Joint Education Committee (or Cyd-bwyllgor Addysg to the Welsh-speakers amongst you). The lesson explains how to measure the effect of temperature on the rebound height of a squash ball. All you’ll need is a one-metre rule (clamped upright), a thermometer, a beaker, hot water, a squash ball, a pair of tongs to handle the ball, safety goggles and a kitchen.

Boring Physics

Coincidentally, Wales is currently in the middle of a 17-day COVID-19 lockdown so, for Welsh residents, there’s really no excuse for not having a crack at this simple piece of physics. You’ve got one hour to complete the experiment.

Oh, hang on. I’ve just noticed that the kind of squash ball to be used in the investigation isn’t specified so I suppose you might as measure the rebound heights for all four World Squash standard balls. Better make it four hours then.

Your time starts…now!

P.S. You can check your findings here.

P.P.S. For US students, GCSE is the equivalent of Grade 10.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia and the ‘Boring Physics’ YouTube channel of the Bryn Elian High School (Ysgol), Colwyn Bay, Wales.

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.