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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 13:46 GMT
Squash 'deserves Olympic place'
By Matt Slater

The Canary Wharf Squash Classic's glass court
Moveable glass courts have brought squash to new exciting venues
Squash great Peter Nicol believes the game is the most deserving of the sports trying to get into the Olympics and should get the nod for 2016.

The former world number one admitted that the decision to deny squash a place at London 2012 "hurt like hell" but said the game has bounced back.

Nicol retired from playing in 2006 and is now involved in promoting the sport.

"We have a very realistic chance of getting in for 2016 - I think it's just a matter of time," he told BBC Sport.

"The last vote was very close and by the time of the next vote we'll be in a much better shape to lobby for it.

"It's a classic Olympic sport. If you are going to have a racquet sport in the Games it should be this one."

Squash looked set to make its Olympic debut in 2012 but failed to win enough support in a key International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote in 2005.

Olympic status isn't an elixir - it doesn't cure everything

Peter Nicol
Former world number one
When baseball and softball were voted out of the programme for London two years ago, five new sports - golf, karate, roller skating, rugby sevens and squash - were put forward as possible replacements.

Karate and squash emerged from seven rounds of voting by IOC members as the two sports to be put to a final ballot but neither won the two-thirds majority required to gain Olympic status.

But Nicol, the co-promoter of this week's Canary Wharf Squash Classic in London, is convinced that the sport could and should get Olympic status in 2016.

Nicol added that events such as the Canary Wharf tournament were crucial to squash's attempts to raise its profile and update public perceptions of the sport.

Matt Slater
He admitted that the game, which boomed in popularity in the early 1980s, still has something of an image problem and did not do enough in the past to build on its grassroots base.

New spectator-friendly courts, rule changes designed to promote attacking play and a less strait-laced approach to on-court fashion are just some of the measures that have helped to update a sport that had fallen out of fashion. The challenge now is to get that message of change out there.

"Obviously, it would be huge to become an Olympic sport. It changes a lot of things - funding, exposure and so on," Nicol said.

"But Olympic status isn't an elixir. It doesn't cure everything. There's a lot of stuff we can do that would make a huge difference without being an Olympic sport.

"We're starting to do it, finally, but we've got to get our house in order before we focus on getting into the Olympics. In the past the game hasn't been very good at promoting itself. It's all been very disparate.

Egypt's Wael El Hindi
Wael El Hindi demonstrates the trendier side of modern squash
"But now we've got a good core of people at every level - the clubs and associations, coaches and the professional game - working towards the same goal, which is to get more people playing and enjoying squash."

That said, Nicol confessed that missing out on London was a massive blow for the sport and the host nation's overall medal hopes.

England are the current men's and women's world team champions and British players make up half of the world's top 20 in both male and female categories.

The sport was admitted to the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and British players have enjoyed considerable success. Nicol won four golds, a silver and a bronze in three Commonwealths and England claimed two golds, a silver and two bronzes at Melbourne 2006.

"The London 2012 organisers really wanted us there, and were very proactive, but we just missed out," said Nicol. "Clearly, that ship has sailed for me as a player but it's really sad for the younger guys."

The current British number one Nick Matthew is one of those "younger guys" who have been hit by the IOC snub. The 26-year-old became the first English-born player to win the prestigious British Open in 67 years last September, a victory that saw his world ranking improve to fifth.

"It's going to be really hard for us to watch in 2012 knowing that we're still in the prime of our careers," Matthew told BBC Sport.

Why it isn't in is beyond me - I can't overstate how disappointed we are not to be in the London Games

Nick Matthew
British Open champion
"It's very disappointing - the Olympics would bring such benefits to our sport. If you look at badminton (which gained Olympic status in 1992) it has got a lot more publicity since it got in and is now doing really well.

"So for us to miss out was terrible. The likes of myself, Lee Beachill, James Willstrop and Adrian Grant (all playing in Canary Wharf this week) would have been challenging for medals.

"Why it isn't in is beyond me. I can't overstate how disappointed we are not to be in the London Games," he said.

Matthew, now ranked seventh, injured his ankle soon after his British Open triumph but was starting to look his old self this week before he came up against England team-mate, and fellow Yorkshireman, Willstrop in the semi-finals on Thursday.

That match was preceded by Scottish veteran John White's upset of the top seed Thierry Lincou. White, seeded fifth here and ranked 12th in the world, overpowered the defending champion from France to set up an all-British final on Friday evening.

England's world champions - James Willstrop, Nick Matthew, Lee Beachill and Peter Nicol
The absence of squash at London 2012 is a blow for Team GB
That contest is a rematch of last month's British National Championship, where the 23-year-old Willstrop got the better of White. And Willstrop will be chasing his second Canary Wharf title having won the inaugural event in 2004.

But even if squash is admitted for the 2016 Olympics it is likely to come too late for the likes of Matthew and the rest of his 2005 World Team Championship team-mates.

"It would be something to hang on for," he said. "But I would be 36, so I would literally be hanging on."

The challenge for British squash remains two-fold then: provide leadership in the IOC debate and continue to produce world-class players. On the latter, Nicol is convinced Britain's status within the game can be maintained.

"We are still the largest nation in terms of players but we also have a lot of expertise," he said.

"We have fantastic coaches and there are still lots of places to play and train. I'm confident about the future of the game. We have a great product."

Hitting a wall
15 Jan 07 |  Magazine
Unknown legend
19 Jul 06 |  Squash
Nicol & Beachill win doubles gold
26 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Sports respond to IOC's decision
08 Jul 05 |  Olympics 2012
Fewer sports for London Olympics
08 Jul 05 |  Olympics 2012
Squash 'deserves Olympic place'
04 Nov 04 |  Grandstand
Squash calendar
17 Oct 00 |  Squash


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