Exclusive: Willstrop on squash prospects for Olympics: "Why pretend we have a chance?"

Wednesday, 17 August 2011
By Mike Rowbottom

James_Willstrop_hs_17-08-11August 17 - James Willstrop, Britain's world number four squash player, says he is losing faith in his sport's chances of being included in the 2020 Olympics after its failures to earn selection for the 2012 and 2016 Games.

"All I know is that we have a great sport and it deserves to have its place in the Games," said Willstrop.

"We cover all the Olympic ethos and it seems to be tailor made for the Games.

"No one can understand why it's not in but when you're up against baseball and softball it will be tough.

"They are American sports and have money.

"They will be encouraged by the fact that thousands will watch those two sports, the same reasons why golf received Olympic status for 2016.

"It is ridiculous.

"So why am I going to pretend to say that we still have a chance when you have sports like that getting ahead of squash?

"I find it hard to see what attributes it is that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is looking for that we don't have.

"Squash is a sport where it is not just about skill, or agility and speed, or endurance, but it's a mix of all of them.

"And in that respect I think it is ideal for the Olympics.

"It's played worldwide – we have more than 100 countries affiliated to the international federation.

"It's far more accessible than golf, and in terms of legacy, it is a lot more of a down-to-earth sport.

"It survives in a lot of places where you just have to pay £2.50 to play and you can borrow a racket.

"And yet we are the only racket sport yet to gain Olympic status.

"It seems to me to be quite money-driven."

Two years ago, Willstrop was left "confused" over the IOC criteria following rugby sevens and golf's inclusion to the 2016 Games in Rio.

But he now accepts that decision as understandable given the IOC's position in promoting a worldwide movement.

"When you have a Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, why wouldn't you include it in the Games?" he said.

James_Willstrop_action_1_17-08-11"How could squash compete with that when you look at it on those terms?"

The IOC will announce its decision on new sports for 2020 at its annual Session in Buenos Aires in September 2013.

Squash will by vying against karate, baseball, roller sports, softball, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.

"In so many ways, the sport has so many positive aspects," added Willstrop.

"Squash is going through a great spell and we could do with a big push."

The world tour is currently going through something of a revival following a radical overhaul of the Super Series calendar, an emphasis on a viable television product and an injection of funds from Ziad Al-Turki, the men's tour chairman.

"It is now a great motivational factor to push for Olympic status," Willstrop said.

"When I first started playing we were struggling to get five top events.

"Now we have £150,000 ($248,000/€171,000) tournaments and a viable television product to sell."

Willstrop is preparing to compete for England at the World Team Championships in Paderborn, Germany, along with Nick Matthew, the world number one, Peter Barker and Daryl Selby.

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