November 27 - Squash, hoping to be third time lucky when it bids for a place at the 2020 Olympics, will showcase itself to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the Hong Kong Open, starting tomorrow, after failing to become part of either the London 2012 or Rio 2016 Games.
Following the Hong Kong event, where the courts are situated on the coast of Lantau Island overlooking the bay and the mainland, squash will make its latest submission and presentation to the IOC Programme Commission on December 19.
The entire selection process will run until September 2013, when the accepted sport will be announced, with the other 2020 contenders being climbing, karate, roller sports, wakeboard, wushu and, jointly baseball and softball.
This week's 27th edition of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open – which will reach its climax with semi-finals and finals staged on an all-glass show court erected at the Cultural Centre on the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui – will feature courts that glow in the dark, a global audience and a more television-friendly setting for a field which includes Britain's defending champion and world number one James Willstrop.
Willstrop is in a men's field featuring 19 of the world's top 20, including six former world number ones, while the women's field will be led by Malaysian superstar Nicol David, the world number since August 2006, who is expected to win the title for a record eighth time in a row since 2005.
"The Hong Kong Open is an event that squash cherishes and we are delighted that the IOC have chosen to come to it to evaluate our sport," said World Squash Federation (WSF) President N Ramachandran.
"It shows off so much of the essence of professional squash and what we mean by the ability to showcase host cities.
"We look forward to them seeing this for themselves, along with the strong international broadcast output, first class sports presentation – and some great squash matches too."
Willstrop is also pleased that the IOC chose Hong Kong: "It's a wonderful backdrop for the IOC delegates to see – there are few that could be more exciting and spectacular as this Hong Kong location.
"As a player, when you're on the court and peer through the glass walls, it's a staggering view.
"It's unbelievable how far we've come as a sport in such a short time."
Distinguished Egyptian Amr Shabana, the former world number one and four-time world champion who is making a record 16th appearance in the event and has his sights on a sixth Hong Kong title, added: "Having the IOC come to Hong Kong will show them what a great experience it is, watching the world's best squash.
"Squash players are some of the strongest, if not the strongest, athletes in this world."
Borja Golan, the top-ranked Spaniard, said: "As a sport, squash is one of the most complete ones: physically you need to have resistance, power, speed, balance and reflexes.
"Mentally you have to be so focussed all the time – and we can compare every match with a gladiator fight because only the strongest will win."
Australian number one Cameron Pilley pointed out: "The Hong Kong Open is one of the longest running and biggest events on tour, not only for prize money but because of the history behind it.
"The full glass court down on the harbour is an amazing venue with a great backdrop."
Alex Gough, chief executive of the Professional Squash Association (PSA), is confident of the sport's bid to make it onto the Olympic programme.
"This is a lot more of a winnable race than it has been before," Gough explained.
"When you look at the list of criteria that all the sports in the race have to meet, I think we are now in a position where we pretty much tick all of those boxes.
"We have had a lot of messages from the IOC about making the sport more commercial, improving it for television and so on.
"A key thing is that presentation.
"Look at the ATP Finals at the O2 – that is a classic example, with all that lighting and making it a really excellent spectator experience for the paying public.
"Those are the sorts of lessons we are trying to pick up all the time, as a sport that's trying to be innovative and learn from bigger sports.
"We have really improved the sport for television over the last two or three years.
"It has been a big push forward, and we are trying to improve it week after week."
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