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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 squashball. 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.
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 squashball 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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
It’s not often I stumble across squash artprojects 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).
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 programmewhich 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.
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
Although, whether anybody else was the article doesn’t say.
Thanks to The Fordham Ram, Fordham University, Poly Prep
and City Squash.
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.
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.