The Absent Friends: Squash And The Olympics

Callum Walker
Callum Walker

In the 2016 Olympic games  – held in the picturesque Brazilian city of Rio – 28 sports were featured with 306 events. Yet squash, despite its international profile, was not one of them.

Regardless of the efforts of the World Squash Federation (WSF), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rejected their bid to add the sport to the Rio program. And, in 2015, the WSF learnt that squash would not be present in the Tokyo Games in 2020, despite so-called ‘sports’ such as climbing and skateboarding being included.

Why does squash continued to be punished?

Global appeal

Squash is not just a sport isolated to one continent as, for example baseball is, it is an international phenomenon. In total, 185 countries take part in the sport and five continents have produced a world champion with over 20 million participants around the globe. And, in 2015, 47 countries hosted tour events which featured players from 74 nations.

Criticism of squash has, in the past, claimed that the sport was not run well and that the sport was not TV or spectator friendly, with it being difficult for the viewer to see the ball and that the courts were difficult to film. But, over the years, squash has modernised to the point where tours have been set up to the highest degree of organisation and in fantastic locations around the world. Moreover, courts have been designed with an eye to make viewing – whether at home or in the venue – as easy as possible. ‘Squash TV’ for example – launched in 2013 – has higher-quality cameras to improve ball visibility. The grounds for exclusion are therefore becoming weaker and weaker.

Famous supporters

“It’s a wonderful sport. It’s unfortunate some sports don’t get the opportunity to be in the Olympics. Squash would deserve it. They run a great tour and they have great players and characters. I’d personally be very happy for them.”

– Roger Federer

A sport to be proud of

While drug scandals have rocked the likes of cycling and athletics, squash has one of the cleanest drug records in the world. In fact, on the back of extensive research, it seems that the last time a squash player was banned from the sport was in 2011 when Italy’s No.1 Stephane Galifi failed a routine drugs test.

And, excluding the occasional ban for recreational drugs, squash’s current anti-doping record is impeccable. Admittedly, squash’s top athletes aren’t tested anywhere near as often as most Olympians but not one player or coach has ever spoken out against a possible doping claim.

“We have one of the cleanest drug records of any professional sport in the world and are a sport that is played in over 180 countries – boasting a truly global footprint. Alongside that recent improvements in broadcast technology, video referee technology, glass-court developments and more have taken the sport to a new dimension. These are all elements that everyone in the sport can feel truly proud of and we are buoyed by the strides we continue to take and we are committed to continuing that journey irrespective of the Olympic Games.”

– Alex Gough, former Chief Executive of the Professional Squash Association (PSA).

Squash is unique

Squash would also bring something different to the Games. It is popular in countries which are not traditionally dominant in the international scene. For example, Egypt and Malaysia boast some of the best-ranked stars in the sport such as the Alexandria-born Mohamed El-Shorbagy and eight-time World Champion, Nicol David, respectively.

It would be highly likely that Malaysia could win their first gold medal ever in squash. Come on, who doesn’t want to see a nation different to China and the United States with a representative on the podium?

An easy fit for the Olympics

The event that the WSF had proposed for Tokyo – singles tournaments for men and women, featuring 32 players apiece—could be run exclusively on two all-glass courts, either inside or outside. In effect, it is a simple and easy plan to follow through with.

One also cannot say that squash is untried and unsuitable in multi-sport events either as more than one million people watched the men’s singles final in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. All the plans have been well thought and presented by the WSF, so then, why has squash been rejected three consecutive times by the IOC?

Not lucrative enough?

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, golf and Rugby Union (in the form of Sevens) both rejoined the games after lengthy absences – 1904 and 1924 respectively were the last time the sports graced the Olympic scene. Both of these sports are far more lucrative than squash can ever hope to be which boosted the commercial value of the Olympics overall. Of course, members of the IOC are going to favour those sports which will boost their pay packet to an even greater extent.

Bad timing

Furthermore, the WSF’s bid for the Tokyo Games came at perhaps the worst possible time. Because the Games are being held in Japan which has very little – if at all – interest in the sport, and because new rules allow the hosts to propose additional sports, squash had very little chance of being chosen. Karate, one of the most revered sports in Japan, has instead being chosen for the first time.


The campaign to win inclusion for the 2024 Games is already under way, but Andrew Shelley insists that the sport will grow regardless of whether or not it gains admission.

However, as nations continue to prioritise Olympic sports for funding, squash risks being left behind, and another dent in their Olympic hopes could spell disaster on a commercial and participatory level.

“So long as it continues in its current position, the sport is at a significant strategic disadvantage and is losing market territory to rival sports,”

– Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford.

For a sport that has improved so drastically in the past few decades and one which is so widely played and followed throughout the world, it is shambolic that events (they do not even deserve the tag of “sports”) such as climbing and skateboarding are taking the rightful place of squash in the Olympics.

Even more embarrassingly, pole dancing has recently been considered an official ‘sport’ with rumours of an Olympic bid growing. Whilst squash continues to be thrown to the wayside, completely ignored, it is baffling that ridiculous events can even be considered to take part in the most prestigious sporting competition.

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