Alan Hubbard

The world’s top squash players must feel they are beating their heads against a wall - which of course is precisely what they do with the ball.

But apparently this isn't sufficiently Olympian as once again squash has been squeezed out of the Games, this time failing to make the short-list of the five sports being considered for addition to the 2020 programme in Tokyo.

It was eliminated alongside wushu (no, that’s not a panto character in Aladdin) and tenpin bowling (aka skittles for grown-ups).

Left in contention are baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sport climbing and surfing, with the final decision to be made on extra events next summer.

Personally I think this is quite ridiculous. Let me make it clear that I have absolutely no axe to grind - or shall we say racket to swing - as I have never played the game and rarely watched it.

Indeed, the only connection I have with squash is the veggie version which I learn from Google has a variety named Blue Hubbard whose pollination rates, according to one grower “are very poor compared to courgettes.” 

But I digress. I am aware from talking to those who do play, and reading about how tough and competitive a sport it is, that squash now deserves Olympic status far more than some which may well get in - or are already there.

For one thing, it has been voted the world’s healthiest sport by Forbes Magazine “with some of the fittest athletes on the planet.”

So isn’t this what Olympic fulfillment should be about?

Squash was once again overlooked for Olympic inclusion as its bid to make the Tokyo 2020 programme failed
Squash was once again overlooked for Olympic inclusion as its bid to make the Tokyo 2020 programme failed

The head of the World Squash Federation (WSF) is "devastated" for the sport's followers after yet another Olympic snub.

"I don't believe we could have done more to get our message across to both the Tokyo 2020 Games hosts and the International Olympic Committee how squash could bring something special as an addition to the programme," says President Narayana Ramachandran. 

"I know I speak on behalf of the millions of squash players around the world for whom the opportunity of seeing their sport participate in the Olympics has been an absolute priority - and, like me, they will be heartbroken.

"Our sport, played by vast numbers week in and week out, flourishes at every level from recreational to events around the world.

"We are a growing, global sport played in 185 countries by millions across the world.

“We offer the genuine prospect of new nations on the medal podium. We would be easy and low-cost to integrate into the Olympic Games with just 64 athletes, two competition courts that can be built in days and we have a great track record of being hosted in iconic locations."

Squash was one of the sports shortlisted for full inclusion at the Tokyo Olympics when the IOC voted on the programme at its 125th Session in Buenos Aires two years ago. But once more it has been given the squash equivalent of tennis elbow.

Shame, for given the choice, I would say that squash is more deserving of an Olympic berth than big brother tennis, where a gold medal is less valued than a Grand Slam victory.

Moreover, it might produce medallists from several nations which otherwise rarely get a whiff of Olympic glory, like Egypt, Pakistan, Colombia and Malaysia. There would, certainly, be a few more medals for Great Britain, too, as we are quite nifty at the game.

Just about every muscle-flexing activity practiced by man – and woman – and quite a few that aren't, have jostled to climb aboard the Olympic Games bandwagon. From angling to arm-wrestling, chess to cheerleading, bog-snorkelling to ballroom dancing, darts to dominoes - even, would you believe, sheep-shearing, at one time have seemed to think they deserve to share the spotlight of the five ring circus.

Take the quintet left in contention for Tokyo: Sport climbing? Isn't that something kids do on walls in leisure centres while their mums are having a cafe latte?

Surfing? Does the Games really need more fun-in-the-sun seekers skimming over water? Baseball and softball? I doubt between them that their global appeal equals that of squash. And as for karate, the Games already have more martial arts than Vladimir Putin has judo holds.

Unfortunately squash is still not perceived as a great spectator sport despite intensive efforts to make it more televisual.

Yet as a spectacle it sure beats still-life wrestling - or dressage, which is Strictly Come Dancing for horses.

Unsurprisingly, after this latest kick in the proverbials, there are those in the sport calling for a new direction and change in leadership, among them British star Nick Matthew.

WSF president Ramachandran has been the subject of bitter controversies in in India, where he is also president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

Some have said WSF President N Ramachandran should step aside after the latest snub
Some have said WSF President N Ramachandran should step aside after the latest snub ©Getty Images

He was recently stripped of a national sports award by the Delhi High Court when he was found guilty of lying about the sums of money he had allegedly donated to squash.

Ramachandran is also battling to retain control of the IOA after Hockey India called for a special meeting to remove him from office.

Matthew would like to see the Professional Squash Association, who manage the World Tour, take over the Olympic bid from the WSF.

The 35-year-old from Sheffield, England’s most successful squash player, with three world and British Open titles, is currently ranked world number two.

He says: “Do the PSA, who have played such a big role in amalgamating the men’s and women’s Tours, and the growth in TV coverage, take front running now over the WSF?

“Despite the good work that has been done behind the scenes, maybe we (the PSA) need to become the front runners.

“Certainly we need to change because if you do the same things over and over again and expect different results then that’s the definition of insanity.

“Squash is growing all over the world, and we owe it to the future of our sport to get that Olympic inclusion.”

I agree. Squash now has some of the most iconic venues in sport, with major events taking place in London’s Canary Wharf, New York’s Grand Central Station, alongside the pyramids in Egypt, and waterfront sites in San Francisco, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Matthew, who has amassed 33 PSA World Tour titles in a 17-year career, adds: ”Squash is growing. It’s a global sport now.

“Obviously there’s massive disappointment that squash isn’t going to be part of the 2020 Olympic Games. I feel deflated and a bit disillusioned with the whole process.

“There have been so many times in the past that we’ve got our hopes up. But I don’t think too many people in the world of squash expected a positive answer this time after a process that has been going on for more than 10 years.

Nick Matthew has suggested that the Professional Squash Association take over the sport's drive for Olympic inclusion
Nick Matthew has suggested that the Professional Squash Association take over the sport's drive for Olympic inclusion ©Getty Images

“The TV aspect of the sport has improved over the last four years and the amalgamation of the men's and the women's tours into one PSA World Tour is a step in the right direction.

“The question is, how can we add that value to the sport because it's clear that the Olympics seem to be asking that question?

“It seems to be going more and more away from the original Olympic ideals and more to what added value can you bring to the Olympic Games, so we need to keep addressing the TV side and keep trying to grow the sport.”

Having been pipped for Rio by a larger oval ball and an even smaller golf ball (what the hell are rugby and golf doing in the Olympics anyway?) it is time the IOC stopped putting the squeeze on squash.