Game on for squash

Kevin Kung

Decisions about the 2020 Olympics in late summer could affect the dreams of two local junior squash champions

Kevin Kung |

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Lee Ka-yi (left) and Simon Yeung may consider professional careers if squash joins the Olympic line-up.
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decides in September which country will host the Games in 2020, it will also choose to add one new sport from a shortlist of seven candidates.

That's the part that interests Simon Yeung Ho-wai and Lee Ka-yi, respective winners of last year's boys' and girls' under-19 titles at the Hong Kong Junior Squash Closed Championships. If squash becomes an Olympic sport it might well influence their career plans.

"Never give up" could be the motto of squash players worldwide and the World Squash Federation, the sport's international governing body. Squash failed to be chosen to join the Olympics at both last year's London Games and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, in Brazil.

Yet now the sport hopes it will be third time lucky. It is competing against six other bidders: karate, roller sports, sports climbing, wakeboarding, wushu and a combined effort by baseball and softball. Only one will be selected at the meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the 2020 Games are awarded.

Last month, two IOC officials came to Hong Kong to observe the annual Hong Kong Open in Tsim Sha Tsui. Simon and Ka-yi were also there as spectators, and talked about their hopes of squash winning the IOC's vote this time.

"I thought many voters would support squash for the London Games," said Simon, a Form Six student at Diocesan Boys' School. "And I was sorry when I heard the news that the sport had lost to rugby sevens and golf for 2016 in Rio."

The selection of rugby sevens especially annoyed Ka-yi, as more women play squash worldwide than rugby. "Female athletes missed out," she said.

Ka-yi, 19, a first-year investment science student at Polytechnic University, said if the sport gained selection this time it would be an incentive for her to turn professional after graduation.

"Yet there are so many talented players of my generation, especially those that are only one or two years older than I am," she said. "Places for participants in the 2020 Games would be limited for sure. Competition would be very keen."

Simon, 17, is also interested by the potential incentive of turning professional if squash gains Olympic status. "The Olympics is not a competition for ordinary athletes. It represents the highest standard and the ultimate goal for many athletes," he said. "I want to participate in the Games one day. And if I could do that at the 2020 Games, I'd be only 24."

Hong Kong could really benefit, too, if squash was selected, he said. "We're doing well in many tournaments, and even at the Asian Games. If we can show our talent on the Olympic stage, we can get more resources from the Hong Kong Sports Institute and the government.

"Then it wouldn't be a wild idea any more for Hong Kong to have a world champion and Olympic gold medallist at squash in the coming decades."