HK key to winning place in Olympics
Hong Kong, with its dramatic harbour backdrop, has been chosen to showcase squash and the sport's bid to enter the Olympic Games in 2020.
The Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open will carry the hopes of the future after it was named as the tournament which the International Olympic Committee will use to judge the sport's credentials for becoming a medals event.
'A lot will be riding on the Hong Kong Open this time,' Heather Deayton, vice-president of the World Squash Federation, said. 'It has always been a wonderful success in the past and we hope to once again use this event to prove to the IOC that our sport is worthy of inclusion in the Olympics.'
One of the richest events on the world calendar, the US$150,000 Hong Kong Open (November 25-December 2) will feature the world's leading men and women professionals, including six-time Hong Kong champion Nicol David of Malaysia. But even she will have to share the limelight with two IOC officials who will be here to inspect all aspects of the tournament, from its organisation to the interest it generates in the media.
'We will have an IOC member, plus one member of its sports programme commission, for the last two days of the Hong Kong Open, which is the semi-finals and the final,' Deayton said yesterday. 'This is normal practice. They will be doing it with every other sport bidding to enter the Olympics.'
Squash will be up against eight other sports in the fight for one place at the 2020 Olympics. Seven of the eight are known - baseball, softball, karate, wakeboarding, wushu, rollersports and sport climbing - with the eighth being decided after the London Olympics this summer when the IOC drops one sport from its programme.
There are only 26 sports in London with the full complement of 28 - the limit set by the IOC - to be reached at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro when golf and rugby sevens join the roster.
Those two sports were successful in their bids at the 2009 IOC Congress in Copenhagen. Squash was among the bidders but failed, as it also did in 2005.'We have tried twice and failed twice. Who knows, maybe it is third time lucky for us,' Deayton said.
And perhaps Hong Kong could be the lucky charm as in 2009, the Hong Kong Sevens was picked as the inspection tournament for the IOC. On that occasion IOC president Jacques Rogge was among the inspection party and he left impressed with the scope and vibrancy of the tournament. Later in 2009, the IOC voted in favour of rugby sevens.
'The next few months leading up to the Hong Kong Open and after that will be crucial for our sport,' Deayton said. 'A lot of effort will be put in by everyone, from the players to the officials to make certain everything is a huge success.'
The Hong Kong Open traditionally has been a popular event with the players.
The early rounds are played at the Hong Kong Squash centre with the semi-finals and final being played on an outdoor glass court situated outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.
With the breathtaking backdrop of Hong Kong harbour at night, squash officials will hope it will be enough to justify their claim that the sport can be played on any picturesque location in the world at the Olympics.
The IOC will make its decision on the new sport for the 2020 Games in September 2013 in Argentina.