Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open 2016

Why isn’t squash in the Olympics? Champions say game deserves to be there

Malaysian great Nicol David and world number one Mohamed El Shorbagy say it’s a pity the sport isn’t in the world’s biggest extravaganza as they prepare to defend their Hong Kong Open titles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 11:28am

The world’s top squash players on Monday issued an impassioned plea for entry into the Olympic family after they were forced to once again watch from the sidelines as the Games unfolded in Rio de Janeiro.

“Squash really should be there – it has so much to offer,” said Nicol David, the eight-time world champion and widely acknowledged as the greatest player the women’s game has ever seen.

“We’ve given it our all in our campaigns [to get in the Olympics] but just not got there,” continued the Malaysian world number four.

WATCH: Nicol David beats Laura Massaro to win last year's Hong Kong Open

“That’s all you can do – try your best – but it doesn’t make not being there any easier to take. It has been tough. But we have great athletes, and it’s a great sport.”

10 in a row – but can Nicol David do it again at this year’s Hong Kong Squash Open?

The 32-year-old David has this week returned to chase her 11th straight title at the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open, adding her considerable lustre to a field that boasts the world’s top 10 women’s players, along with nine of the top-10 men.

Among them will be world number one Mohamed El Shorbagy and the Egyptian also said watching the action in Rio from his couch had been “tough”.

“But as much as I feel that it is a loss for us I feel it is a loss for the Olympics as well,” he said. “It’s a great sport and it deserves to be there.”

Those sentiments were shared by the women’s world number one, Nour El Sherbini, the 20-year-old Egyptian sensation who is plotting to end David’s dominance of the Hong Kong event.

“It’s annoying only being able to watch other athletes compete,” said El Sherbini. “Squash is one of the most exciting and challenging sports there is and we deserve to be in the Olympics. When you’re not in [the Olympics] you just watch and wonder what it must be like.

Unbeatable: Nicol David proves she’s still queen of the Hong Kong Open

“It would be a dream of mine to one day go to an Olympics and win a medal. I think it is the dream of any athlete – so guess I will have to continue to dream.”

The World Squash Federation (WSF) has now applied three times to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for acceptance into the Games – all to no avail, despite the fact an estimated 20 million people play the game, globally.

The WSF last applied when sports were being decided for the next Olympics – in Tokyo in 2020 – but squash missed out as the IOC picked baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.

That move, announced in September last year, had left squash “heartbroken”, according to WSF president Narayana Ramachandran, who vowed to not give up the fight. Squash will now set its sights on winning inclusion for the Moscow Olympics in 2024.

The annual professional world tour meanwhile takes in events staged in 47 countries each year and its tournaments attract a rabid following, especially across Asia, which has over the years produced alongside David the likes of the legendary eight-time world champion Jansher Khan of Pakistan, and the Middle East, which currently dominates the sport.

“Of course it’s tough to watch on and not be there [in Rio],” said Shorbagy. “But I think our sport is in a good place. We have so many good ambassadors for it, and one day we will add something special to the Olympics.”

The world’s top-ranked players both kick-off their campaigns today at the Hong Kong Squash Centre on Cotton Tree Drive as main draw action begins. Shorbagy, aiming for as hat-trick of victories here, faces off against England’s Chris Simpson, while Sherbini is drawn to face fellow Egyptian Heba El Torky.

Leading the local campaign at the HK$2.06 million tournament will be world number 10 Annie Au Wing-chi and Max Lee Ho-yin, ranked 18th.