BY KNG ZHENG GUAN in the Malaysian Star
PETALING JAYA: When wrestling was added to the list of sports vying for the 2020 Olympics earlier this year, there were worrying glances among the squash fraternity.
It became a little more worrying when wrestling, dropped as an Olympic core sport, made it to the final shortlist alongside squash and baseball/softball during the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board meeting at St Petersburg in May.
After all, wrestling has history on its side and a tremendous following in the United States and Russia while squash is considered a little “obscure”.
Once voted by Forbes magazine as the world’s healthiest sport, squash has seen its fortunes turn a little in recent times, especially with men’s and women’s world No. 1s Ramy Ashour and Nicol David passionately campaigning for it.
More notable was the massive support that squash has garnered on social media, with a current 125,781 followers on its official Facebook page – Squash 2020 – while wrestling pales with only 117,471 followers.
Mike Lee, the chairman of Vero – the consulting firm in charge of lobbying for squash’s bid, firmly believes that the sport still has a genuine chance of making the 2020 Games.
“Squash has a very strong case, particularly as it is the only new Olympic sport on the IOC shortlist,” said Lee in an email with StarSport.
“This is squash’s third bid for Olympic inclusion and the IOC session in Buenos Aires will be the culmination of a 10-year campaign by the sport.
“As a new sport, squash would be low-cost and easy to integrate into the Games with just 64 athletes. It can also share a venue if required, or be located to showcase an iconic backdrop – with a track record of matches in front of the Pyramids (Egypt), Grand Central Station (New York) and alongside the Hong Kong Harbour.
“Squash has also been on a journey of innovation in recent years, especially in the way it is broadcast and presented. State-of-the-art glass courts, referee video review, lighting and music have radically enhanced the spectator experience.
“It is a genuinely global sport, played in 185 countries by millions across the world and is still growing in regions such as South America, central Europe, China and India.
“In fact, in the United States, squash has almost one million players. The order books of court manufacturers are the fullest they have ever been.
“Squash would also offer genuine medal opportunities to a growing number of countries because it is a sport where all five continents have produced both male and female world champions.
“Squash also has a 100% doping-free record, embraces gender parity and generally reflects the essence of an Olympic sport – gladitorial, physically demanding and mentally challenging – and is already played in every major multi-sport Games.
“Thus, with that, we can see that squash has a real strong case.”
Lee also pointed out that the late momentum squash gained was also well-calculated towards the crucial final presentation on Sunday before the IOC make their decision.
“We are focused on winning and on building last-minute momentum for squash in the media and with IOC members. A lot of focus and preparation will also go into our final presentation, which will be extremely important in winning over any undecided voters,” said Lee.
“This is a team effort and it has been a great pleasure to work with the World Squash Federation (WSF), who have top tour players who are professional and passionate about squash’s Olympic campaign.
“The sport has come a long way, and an important theme in the final presentation to the IOC will be this journey of change and innovation.
“Furthermore, in Nicol and Ramy, we have outstanding bid ambassadors. Their contribution to the bid campaign has been significant and they are true professionals.
“Their commitment throughout the bid process has really helped demonstrate to the IOC that the Olympics would be the absolute pinnacle for professional squash players.”
For the record, Vero has been credited with succesfully bringing in rugby sevens for the 2016 Olympics and helping Qatar win the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
But only on Sunday (Monday morning in Malaysia) will squash know its fate.