Well, more precisely, Al Pacino in the role of Aldo Gucci, chairman of the Italian luxury fashion house in a scene from the recent film “House of Gucci”. Or, even more precisely, Al Pacino etc. being arrested by US Department of the Treasury agents on a New York squash court on suspicion of tax evasion.
Still, what’s not to like if you, like me, are more than happy to see squash culturally referenced in TV programmes, films, plays and, oh I don’t know, operas? You never know.
Truth be told, the entire sequence showing Pacino in squash kit takes up less than ten seconds of screen time, most of which shows the Feds marching up to the court then marching away with their Gucci of interest in custody. On the other hand, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had from the rest of the ‘House of Gucci’ not least the jaw-dropping over-acting and the, er, uneven English-language script delivered with comedy Italian accents by the principal cast members, Pacino, Lady Gaga, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek and Adam Driver included.
Which begs the question, why don’t we get to see Lady Gaga on a squash court? In terms of Twitter followers alone, that really might have been something that could help raise the profile of the game. Just a suggestion.
Readers of The Squash Life Blog will be familiar with the development of squash in Iran, particularly the inclusion of women in the sport at both national and international level. Now, here’s Masoud Ghareh Ziaeddini – the head coach of the country’s national squash team – to describe a new initiative to attract more people to the sport. Three-wall squash uses a scaled-down, open-air court to give children and adults alike a racket game experience as close as possible to the four-wall, indoor version. Costing US$700-800 to build, the bright courts can be blue placed in locations where people are already gathering for recreation and, equally as important, watch others playing and enjoying themselves.
With a population of over 85 million, a young demographic distribution and a border with squash-cultured Pakistan, Iran is well placed to develop a ‘feeder’ network of the three-walled courts to attract the players of tomorrow. So far, 100 courts have been built in just 3 months with a first-year target of 300 well within reach. Next month, with the involvement of the Iranian Squash Federation, a national three-wall squash championship will be held in Zahedan, a south-eastern city with a population of 500,000.
With squash lovers keen to attract others to the sport, the Iranian initiative is both imaginative and low-cost. Most importantly, it also looks fun to play which, as squash emerges from its enforced pandemic hiatus, is perhaps its most promising feature of all.
Here’s a short video by German film maker and visual artist Matthias Fritsch combining on-court movement with music and narrative. Fritsch’s work involves creating moving images and running workshops for video artists amongst others.
His art reflects everyday activities including, in this example, squash as well as global issues such as environmental protection. His recent research has focussed on ‘circles of matter’ and biological processes which could almost describe the dance movement of players chasing a soft rubber ball around a squash court.
‘Squash’ is a 2008 project by Matthias Fritsch filmed on location at Bard College in Berlin. Music is by C.Thomas and the players are Jacob Nabel and Brent Lewis. The accompanying German-language narrative to the video is uncredited.
So, as a squash lover, what the heck have you been doing during the last eighteen months?
Well, here’s at least one thing young squash enthusiast Kiyaan Khalfan has been doing. Kiyaan, a student at the Aga Khan Academy in Nairobi, Kenya, has put together a video exploring the game of squash as part of his studies. Including interviews and demonstrations, the video looks at squash skills, nutrition, fitness and careers. One interviewee, Khaaliqa Nimji, is a professional squash player whose resumé includes playing mixed doubles against Nicol David at the 2010 Commonwealth Games – at the age of 12!
On the leadership front, it’s not difficult to see where student projects such as Kiyaan’s can have a wide influence. Nairobi’s Aga Khan Academy is just one of 17 planned for Africa, The Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, all areas which could potentially benefit from an injection of squash leadership.
The Academy’s vision is to invest in “education of the highest quality that can prepare young people to lead and enact positive change in the world they inhabit.” The vision focuses on investment not only in teachers but also in “facilities that provide an environment conducive to the less tangible but equally important elements of an education: self-esteem, leadership, tolerance, ethical judgment and moral reasoning.”
And when it comes to inspiration, it’s not just teachers who can help lead the way.
I may have a terrible memory but I’m pretty sure that no squash-themedsex story has ever appeared in the pages ofThe 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’.
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 Mailand 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.
Thanks to Wikipedia, The Hollywood Gossip, Page Six, Barstool Sports, The Daily Mail and The Sun.
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.