In its heyday, squash was covered and shown on mainstream media, the Pakistanis Brits, Egyptians and Australians, dominated the sport at different stages from the 1960s to the 1990s. However, the sport dwindled into the unknown at the turn of the new century, and can now only boast varyingly, 25-50 million players/fans globally.
This, however, is surprising at times. In an increasingly fitness-conscious planet, with less time to do things, humans are always chasing after the best and most efficient way to get healthy, active and fit. Squash ticks all these boxes, arguably, more so than any other competitive sport.
It is a high-impact workout that can tick off all your health and wellbeing criteria in 30 minute sessions (if you do 3 of these a day, you’re most likely sorted for the week), and in a Forces Magazine survey, it was rated the healthiest sport in ‘terms of cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, calories burned in 30 minutes and injury risk’.
Similarly a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that racket sports lower the risk of death from illnesses by 47% and regular squash was the best way to avoid this.
Why then, isn’t a sport that enables all of the above in such short span of time, grow in a similar trajectory to tennis or even badminton (which is currently far larger than tennis).
There are quite a few reasons for this, and one just has to log into Facebook and join some squash groups to see the endless debates around growing the game amongst passionate fans.
Some people say, and this may very well be a theory, with a bit of truth to it, that Americans have never dominated the sport and hence, without Americans at the top, the game was never likely to gain commercialisation the way that say Tennis has. However, the two largest sports in the world, in terms of viewership and numbers, football (soccer) and cricket, are not ‘American sports’ and hence this argument is invalid.
The more likely reasons have to do with barriers of entry for players, poor marketing, and the ‘type’ of sport, and the lack of Olympics. Let’s break each of these down.
Squash courts are generally found in athletics centres, private apartments or clubs that can only really be accessed by the elite of society, and the sports clubs often charge a lot of money (this varies depending on what country you’re in), which makes it difficult for people to take up the sport.
Secondly, this affects viewership, as squash is an indoor sport, which means, people won’t see you playing randomly as you walk by the courts, and the lack of visibility has enabled outdoor sports or sports that can be played outdoors to quickly capture people’s imaginations and inspire them to play.
Thirdly, people have often argued, in terms of viewership that squash just isn’t attractive to watch. Two-to-four people smacking a rubble ball in a cube-like court, isn’t very attractive to a digital audience and they would rather watch other sports that are more visually appealing. However, I am not a fan of this argument, as technology and smaller cameras have enabled the game to become really exciting to watch, especially since you get instant replays from inside the court and other shots of great volleys and so on.
Lastly, squash, despite its recent efforts has failed to make the Olympics, and therefore, does not receive the sort of government support in smaller nations that enables athletes to make a living, and neither does it reach out to a wider audience via the Olympics platform.
However, not all is blue. The Professional Squash Association and the World Squash Federation, who work in tandem (similar to the WTA and the ATP in tennis), are doing a great job in furthering the sport.
Their social media channels are busies than ever, they are engaging with SportsTech firms to grow the sport and utilise technology to develop it further. They have also engaged with external organisations and are working to support the growth of the game in all capacities.
Similarly, there are growing talks of having open-air squash courts, and using materials such as steel to make courts outdoors that enable people to come in and have a hit.
Following the terror attacks of 9/11 squash also started World Squash Day, to commemorate some of the squash athletes who died during the attack and also do something tangible to grow and promote the sport. This has only grown in momentum, both with participation but also social media, and 2020, being mostly social media focused, has been a huge success.
So, while the game has seen a lot of barriers and challenges, there are many positives coming out of the sport, and with the growth of the fitness industry, and consciousness amongst people, it’s inevitable that the game will also continue to grow.