International Olympic Committee

Back for another tilt at the Olympic windmills

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am

World No 1 10 Thierry Lincou is still game for a fight and wants to turn the Olympic order upside down by getting his beloved sport into the Games. The man whose grandparents fled China during the Communist revolution is a born revolutionary. But so far no one is listening to him, especially the people that matter - the International Olympic Committee.

'It was pretty intimidating three years ago when we presented our case before the IOC in Lausanne,' Lincou said. 'I wanted our presentation to be perfect, and I remember after we had all spoken, IOC president Jacques Rogge asked if we had any questions. We all said nothing, just sat there shaking our heads, happy our bid had been made.

'Perhaps one of us should have said something. That might have convinced the IOC that squash was worthy of a place in the Olympics. Perhaps the IOC thought we didn't bring extra value to the Olympics,' said Lincou, who along with reigning women's world champion Nicol David were the players among the squash deputation presenting its case to the IOC executive board in 2009.

Lincou, who is in Hong Kong for the Meco International Squash 3s tournament at the Hong Kong Football Club, is left wondering what might have been as the sport prepares for another tilt at the Olympic windmills.

But one thing is clear, squash has learned from its previous two failed attempts - 2005 was the other - and is determined to win the one berth up for grabs at the 2020 Olympics.

The sport has polished the way it is presented on television and, perhaps even more significantly, signed on strategist Mike Lee, who has a track record for getting things done.

'We have learned from our mistakes. Last time, in 2009, we sat down with the IOC and asked why we were rejected despite meeting all the criteria. They did that and we have now addressed all these issues,' said Heather Deayton, vice-president of the World Squash Federation.

Squash, the only racquet sport where the competitors share the same space, has upped its game in terms of media and presentation. Modern television technology allows the ball to be seen better so TV audiences, a vital ingredient for any new sport wishing to join the Olympic family, can keep up.

Glass show courts - like that used at the Hong Kong Open - are more viewer-friendly. And this has been enhanced with LED lighting under glass floors adding a new dimension.

Contentious officiating is a thing of the past with electronic decision-making now the norm, plus players having access to video reviews adds an extra edge to proceedings. Top it off with super slo-mo replays, high-definition broadcasting and multiple camera angles and the entire package is slick.

'We are one of the most popular sports in the world today. In terms of where it is played, our reach is enormous,' says Alister Walker, the dreadlocked world No13 who was born in Botswana.

Squash is played by 20 million players in 185 countries and proudly boasts that all five continents have produced world champions, both male and female. And more importantly, it is popular in countries which are not traditionally dominant at Olympic Games, like Egypt and Malaysia.

A case in point is Cairo native Hisham Ashour, the last member of the international troika in town this week. 'Squash is good for you,' Ashour says. 'You have to be fit to play as it's one of the toughest sports.' Forbes magazine recently voted squash as the 'world's healthiest sport'.

It might have a lot going for it, but without someone to pull it all together and present the complete package to the IOC, the cause would be lost, as squash has found out in the past. Enter Lee, who has been credited with landing London and Rio de Janeiro the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games respectively, as well as Qatar's 2022 Fifa World Cup bid.

Englishman Lee was also behind rugby sevens' successful campaign in 2009 to become an Olympic sport.

'Mike Lee will be handling all aspects of our campaign this time and we are very optimistic squash will be successful,' Deayton said. 'But there is still a long way to go before the IOC makes its decision.'

The timeline includes an IOC inspection which takes place at this year's Hong Kong Open in November-December followed by each sport making its presentation to the IOC in Lausanne on December 19.

In February 2013, the IOC executive board will decide which sport will be removed from the current programme - the 26 sports that will comprise the London Olympics this summer - and added to the eight sports bidding for a berth to the 2020 Olympics.

In late May, 2013, the sports will make a presentation to the IOC executive board, which will then make its recommendation to the full congress. D-Day will be in September 2013, when the 125th IOC Session meets in Buenos Aires to vote.

Squash faces challenges from baseball, softball, karate, wakeboard, wushu, rollersports and sport climbing, plus the yet to be known sport which is dropped after the London Olympics.

Baseball, which was in the Olympics from 1992 until Beijing 2008, has the money and the clout but suffers from one main disadvantage with the summer Olympics held smack in the middle of the major league season in North America. .

Softball was also in the Olympics, from 1996 to 2008. The IOC voted it out in 2009 on the grounds it lacked international popularity and it's doubtful much has changed since.

Karate has to battle the fact martial sports are well represented at the Olympics with taekwondo and judo, while wushu, another martial art, will have to win over many neutrals on its complex scoring system. Wakeboard, rollersports and sports climbing could be the dark horses. All three cater to the younger audiences, which the Olympics crave.

So the road ahead is not easy for squash.

At last week's SportAccord Convention in Quebec, world No2 and world champion Nick Matthew made an impassioned plea.

The first Englishman in the 82-year-history of the British Open to win the famous event for a third time, Matthew said: 'Squash is moving with the times, embracing change but still retaining a gladiatorial essence. It's chess at a million miles an hour; a great test, both mentally and physically.'

Lincou, 36, agrees wholeheartedly. The former world No1 - in 2004, the year he won the Hong Kong Open - says he will not be playing by 2020 but is fighting the cause for the next generation.

A true revolutionary, he hopes to change the world for the better.


Estimated number of regular squash players in 185 countries