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.

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.

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.

Great Britain Are World Team Champions! (…in Racketlon)

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.

The Rules

In racketlon 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 sequence.

In singles 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.

The winner 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.

Simple, eh?

Racketlon sports

The Tour

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.

Maybe it’s time to add to our racket collections.

Sources

Thanks to The Times, Wikipedia and tournamentsoftware.com.

Squash – Eagle and Evans (Comedy Sketch)

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.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, IMDB, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and YouTube.