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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 13:13 GMT
Squash builds Manchester legacy
By Stephen Owen

Emma Molyneux in action in Manchester
Molyneux hopes to emulate British number one Tania Bailey

Emma Molyneux is one of British squash's brightest prospects.

The 15-year-old from Manchester is ranked fifth out of the country's best under-17s, and has the potential to become one of the country's leading players.

Her progress is testament to the legacy of the Commonwealth Games in 2002 - specifically the National Squash Centre, which will host the National Championships starting this Sunday 11 February.

"Before squash I didn't really do much, I had nothing to do," said Molyneux, who was first introduced to the game at her local community centre six years ago.

Now she train five times a week at the national centre as part of a world-class performance programme.

And with some critics questioning the cost of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Molyneux's story highlights the legacy such a major sporting event can bring.

"If it wasn't for the Games I don't think I would be playing because there wouldn't be the excellent facilities for people to use," she said.

The national centre, which cost 3.5m to build, will feature the best players from across the country next week.

You can't get a court because they are always full

Jim Quigley, Manchester City Council

But for Nick Taylor, head of Manchester squash development and a former world number seven, the task is to ensure the likes of Molyneux reach the very top of the game in the years to come.

"Emma came though the development programme as a complete beginner, but now she is showing all the ingredients to become a full-time professional squash player," said Taylor.

And he acknowledges that much of this progress would not have happened had the 2002 Commonwealth Games been elsewhere.

Jim Quigley, head of sports events at Manchester City Council, agrees.

"Once the Commonwealth Games finished a programme of development kicked in so the national centre was in constant use soon after," he said.

"We bus schools from around the area into the centre, and now you can't get a court because they are always full."

Crowds watch a squash match in London
Organisers hope to draw the crowds for the national championships

Nationally the state of squash is less healthy, demonstrated by the recent sale of the Lambs Club in London, regarded as the 'Wimbledon of squash', to make way for a block of flats.

Indeed, British Squash chief executive Mark Bellinger believes the sport has an "image problem", with little television coverage meaning few elite players receive national acclaim.

But Bellinger is confident the development of new technology will increase the game's appeal to TV audiences.

"Before digital television came along the speed of the play meant it was not possible to see the ball fly around," he said.

"Now we have cameras all around the court so you can see the ball from all angles.

"One of the things the Commonwealth Games did was dispel the myth that squash doesn't work on TV. It does, but we just don't seem to have much of it."

The National Championships next week are a case in point, with no action scheduled to be broadcast live on TV.

But for Molyneux they will provide the ideal opportunity to watch and learn from the country's best players, including her idol, current British champion Tania Bailey.

She said: "I want to make a career out of squash, travel the world meeting lots of different people and playing the game I love."

The National Championships will be held at the National Squash Centre, Manchester from 11-18 February.

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