Rare op­por­tu­nity rises for squash

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

New Zealand squash has a rare op­por­tu­nity to re­visit its hal­cyon days of the 1980s. I won­der if those run­ning the sport re­alise it.

Dur­ing its great era, play­ers such as Su­san Devoy, Ross Nor­man and Stu­art Daven­port were at the top of the world rank­ings and the sport boomed here. Sadly, those days are a rapidly-fad­ing me­mory.

How­ever, the world women’s cham­pi­onships, held in Palmer­ston North last week, were a huge suc­cess.

They were bril­liantly or­gan­ised by Grant Smith and his team and drew full houses.

All that was lack­ing was a vic­tory by the home team.

Ja­clyn Hawkes, Joelle King, Shelly Kitchen and Tam­syn Leevey even­tu­ally fin­ished fourth, but went within a whisker of win­ning the world ti­tle.

In their semi­fi­nal against favourites Eng­land, the New Zealan­ders looked on track to pull off an up­set.

With match scores locked at 1-1, Joelle King swept to a two games lead against the higher-ranked Laura Mas­saro in the de­cider.

How­ever King grad­u­ally folded and went down 11-7 in the fifth.

But even with that gutwrench­ing de­feat it was a good week for New Zealand squash.

King is one of the stars of the New Zealand sports scene, af­ter her gold and sil­ver medals at the Delhi Com­mon­wealth Games and her strong show­ing all year.

Hawkes, rank­ing 12th in the world, is a great advertisement for the sport.

Kitchen, once ranked in the world’s top six, was play­ing her first tour­na­ment for 15 months, af­ter giv­ing birth to daugh­ter Amalia in Fe­bru­ary.

Re­mark­ably, she went through the week in Palmer­ston North un­beaten.

I can’t help feel­ing that the na­tional squash as­so­ci­a­tion is missing an op­por­tu­nity to cap­i­talise on the pro­file of this trio.

They could do a na­tional tour, play­ing lo­cals and in ex­hi­bi­tions against each other.

This would serve to re­gen­er­ate in­ter­est in squash.

Fur­ther­more, the New Zealand Open needs to be re­sumed. It was a vi­tal part of the na­tional squash cal­en­dar un­til the early 1990s, but since then has been held only once.

What is re­quired is bold ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has been lack­ing for the past 15 years.

In the 1980s, squash’s mem­ber­ship peaked at 60,000. To­day the sport would strug­gle to muster half that num­ber of reg­is­tered play­ers.

The game has not moved with the times.

Its fa­cil­i­ties are old and un­invit­ing and it is los­ing out to mod­ern sports such as moun­tain­bik­ing and triathlon.

Yet squash is a bril­liant sport. In half an hour, play­ers can get in solid ex­er­cise and the beauty of it is that there is al­ways an op­po­nent avail­able of just the right stan­dard.

I was in­volved last week in a squash hall of fame func­tion in Palmer­ston North, in which stars of the past such as Char­lie Waugh, Neven Bar­bour and Carol Owens, and for­mer World Squash Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Susie Sim­cock, were in­ducted.

Among those at­tend­ing were for­mer play­ers of the cal­i­bre of Devoy and Daven­port.

It was a night of nostal­gia and happy mem­o­ries, but what was no­tice­able was that the room was full of gen­er­ally older peo­ple.

What squash needs is to reem­pha­sise its ap­peal to younger play­ers.

That’s why it’s so im­por­tant for its lead­ing ad­min­is­tra­tors to cap­i­talise on the sport’s cur­rent high pro­file, in­stead of let­ting a golden op­por­tu­nity slip.

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