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.

Squash and Brexit

As someone 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.

Madeline Perry of Northern Ireland

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.

Following 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?

Sources

Thanks to RTE, Ulster Squash, Irish Squash, Full Fact and Wikipedia.

Why Is Egypt So Good At Squash? (BBC Africa Short Film) – 2018

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.

Why Is Egypt So Good At Squash? (2018)

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.

Sources

Thanks to BBC Sport Africa, Culture Trip, The Atlantic, Serious Squash and The Express Tribune.

Teamwork

Watching this year’s European Team Squash Championships (ETC) prompted me to find out more about the competition and its global counterparts. Here’s the result.

Europe

The ETC is an annual competition for teams representing countries belonging to the European Squash Federation. Every year, men’s and women’s competitions are held at the same venue at the same time with this year’s event taking place at Edgbaston Priory in Birmingham, England.

England squad for the 2019 European Team Squash Championships: Left to right – James Willstrop, Sarah-Jane Perry, Tom Richards, Alison Waters, Declan James, Victoria Lust, Adrian Waller, Laura Massaro and Daryl Selby

Countries enter teams of four or five players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in best-of-four singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for  individual games won.

This year twenty-two countries entered teams with England beating Spain to win the men’s title and France beating England to take the women’s title.

England vs Spain – Men’s Final Highlights

World

The World Team Squash Championships (WTC) are also held annually although men’s and women’s competitions are biennial, taking place in alternate years and at different venues. This year, it’s the turn of the men to compete at the dramatically-named ‘Squash on Fire’ venue in Washington DC, USA. Last year, Egypt beat England in the final of the women’s competition held in Dalian, China. The 2020 women’s championship will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

England vs France – Women’s Final Highlights

The WTC is organised for teams representing countries belonging to the World Squash Federation. Countries enter teams of three or four players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in a best-of-three singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for individual  games won.

Asia

Last, but not least, the Asian Team Squash Championships (ATC) are held every two years, with men’s and women’s competitions being held at the same venue at the same time. In 2018, Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s teams both won their events, beating Pakistan and South Korea respectively. The championships were held in Cheongju, South Korea

The ATC is organised for teams representing countries belonging to the Asia Squash Federation. Countries enter teams of three or four players to represent them in the women’s and men’s events respectively. In each round of the competition, teams face each other in best-of-three singles matches, points being scored both for rubbers and for individual  games won.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia, England Squash, PSA Squash TV, Facebook and Squash On Fire.

Broken Strings (2018) – Short Film

What does it take before somebody’s resilience breaks? Sam Halford is tested when his coach pushes him and his classmate, Matt, to their limits. But when does pushing somebody beyond their limits become too much to handle?

Broken Strings (2018)

A Dunley Productions film.

Directed by Alfie Drakeley and Connor Dunham

Written by Alfie Drakeley

Cast: Jake Vermuelen (Sam Wilson) Josh Beardmore (Coach) and Alfie Drakeley (Matt Wilson).

Squash Coaching and Refereeing by R.B.Hawkey (1975) – Book Review

I can’t say I’ve ever had the opportunity to review a book on squash so when one came along I made like Peter Marshall and grabbed it with both hands. The volume in question, Dick Hawkey’s “Squash Coaching and Refereeing”, was gifted to me by a retired diplomat who, in a previous existence, had made his living selling antiquarian books. Knowing that I was an aficionado of the game he was certain that I would be  the best person to provide a home for the book, particularly as members of his family had started to pressurise him, for safety purposes, into reducing the mountains of memorabilia (‘junk’ in their terminology) hoarded in his one-bedroom flat.

“Squash Coaching and Refereeing” by R.B. Hawkey

The paperback book, originally published in 1975, is one of several written by R.B. (“Dick”) Hawkey who served as Director of Coaching at the UK’s Squash Racket Association in the 1960s and 70s. Most of them can still be obtained via archival  book services such as OpenLibrary and Alibris, and even from Amazon.

Split into separate ‘Coaching’ and ‘Refereeing sections, the overwhelming majority of the book’s content is as relevant today as when it was written almost 45 years ago. In fact, with the exception of references to the marking system (‘hand-in’ rather than ‘point-a-rally’ is mentioned throughout), the information, insights, advice and guidance presented are as clear and concise as any coach, marker or referee could want. I particularly liked Hawkey’s statement as to the purpose of coaching squash, i.e. to help players enjoy the game more. Having fun was clearly part of Hawkey’s approach to the game as was its social side, from watching matches, chatting with others (players and non-players alike) and drinking at the bar.

The purpose of refereeing, states Hawkey, is three-fold: to prevent injury; to prevent the “unpleasantly ruthless player” from having an unfair advantage; and, to ensure a “fair result” for every match. Safety, on-court manners and fairness are the watch-words.

On the subject of playing style, Hawkey is definitely not a purist. He observes that “virtually every player who has reached the top in any sport has his own idiosyncracies, his own pet shots, strokes of his own invention, things he can do that others cannot and shots he plays a little differently.”

“If,” he continues, “the correct and orthodox way were always the best for everyone, it would automatically follow that every champion was the perfect example of complete orthodoxy.” He goes on to name several great sporting champions (including Mohammed Ali) whose styles clearly disprove such a hypothesis. “In squash,” writes Hawkey, “the greatest of all time, hHashim Khan, was a complete novelty in the game. He held the racket nearly halfway up the shaft and as he raced around the court at unbelievable speed, he would improvise shots at will.”

In summary, Hawkey’s squash philosophy is based on enjoyment, sociability, safety, good manners, fairness and improvisation. Not a bad message to pass down through the generations.

Sources

Thanks to Wikipedia for entries on Peter Marshall and Hashim Khan.

Business Squash (Comedy Sketch)

Well “better late than never” I always say, or at least I occasionally say when I’ve fallen down on whatever job I’ve set myself; in this case spotting squash-themed comedy sketches.

This latest offering comes from Irish comedy trio Foil Arms and Hog who, for reasons unknown (to me, anyway) choose to omit a comma from their stage name, assuming that stage names still exist nowadays.

The group comprises Sean Finnegan, Sean Flanagan and Conor McKenna and performs on TV, radio, the stage and online. Formed in 2008 while all three were students at University College Dublin, the group’s name evolved from the nicknames each of the members had for each other; Foil (Sean Finegan) so-called because was the ‘comedy foil’, Arms (Conor McKenna) because he was ‘All arms and legs’ and Hog (Sean Flanagan) because he ostensibly hogged the limelight. All very well, but I’m still concerned about that comma.

And the “better late than never?” Ah, yes, well the sketch does date from 2013 but, in my defence, I’ve had a lot on recently.

P.S. Do check out the Foil Arms and Hog website for tour dates, merchandise and downloads.

Squash (2012) – Short Film / Cortomejadre

In Spanish. Click on video “Subtitles / Closed Captions” button for English subtitles.

It seems that, in modern times, destiny has reserved the same meeting place for us: the dole queue. A squash-themed story of competition, unemployment and dairy produce.

Parece que, con los tiempos que corren, el destino nos tiene guardado a todos un mismo lugar de encuentro: la cola del paro.

Distributed by the Instituto Del Cine, Spain 2012
  • Written and Directed by Jon Plazaola and Javier Cirujeda
  • Lead Producer: Guillermo Tio
  • Original Idea: Jon Plazaola
  • Associate Producer: Helher Escribano
  • Executive Producers: Guillermo Tio, Jon Plazaola and Javier Cirujeda
  • Director of Photography: Marco Caneda
  • Artistic Director: Carlos Perez De Irube
  • Music: The Dead Rocks “Easy Job”

How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 3

Hot on the heels of “How To Win A Squash Rally” and “How To Win A Squash Rally – Part 2” comes this offering from Mexico’s César Salazar. Well, perhaps “hot on the heels” is a little misleading as the two aforementioned posts appeared on this blog in 2016.

Salazar’s effort came in a first-round match against Number 2 seed Karim Abdel Gawad in the 2017 Hong Kong Open. The Mexican’s strategy can be summarised as follows:

1. Wrongly try to second-guess the direction of your opponent’s next shot and dive forward, full length, to return the ball.
2. Get to your feet.
3. Fall over your opponent’s leg and launch yourself horizontally towards the right-hand wall to return the ball.
4. Get up again.
5. Repeat step 1.
6. Return opponent’s next shot from a kneeling position.
7. Regain your footing.
8. Watch your opponent put the ball into the tin.

Classic.

Salazar went on to lose the match 3-1 to Gawad who eventually reached the semi-finals, going out to fellow Egyptian Ali Farag who, one assumes, upset Gawad’s rhythm by remaining on his feet through the entire 55 minute encounter.

It’s amazing what some players will do to win a rally.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV for the clip. You can find their YouTube channel here.