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New Year

… WISPA expands, new Irish Open, scoring again, Fitz,
more …


Martin Bronstein’s astigmatic view of the world of squash

© 2002 All rights reserved.
photos © 2002, Suashtalk, D. Tessier, Danish Squash, WISPA


The first gallery of the New Year is one of great optimism. Despite the
economic downturn, and the downsizing of promotional budgets, WISPA reports
an increase in their winnings total for 2002. The women competed for a
total of $814,700, an eight percent increase over the previous year and
the first time ever that the total has topped $800,000. WISPA chief Andrew
Shelley added the French Open to the tour last year and will add the Irish
Open this year, which means there’s a good chance that 2003 will
set another winnings record.

Incidentally the Irish Open
will take place in the same club in Dublin as the PSA tournament of previous
years.. Why did the organisers finish with the PSA and bring in WISPA
instead? Sorry, I can’t get an answer, but my bet will be that the
chaos and embarrassment caused when the PSA shoe-horned Jonathon Power
into the draw in 2001 (even though he had not entered it and a draw had
already been made) was just too much for the organiser to stomach. Power
had been told that the sponsor would withdraw his money if Power didn’t
play. Pool old Jonathon went to Ireland only to find out the PSA members
had kicked up a stink when they found out about the redraw, reminded Gawain
Briars, the PSA chief executive it was against the rules, and the initial
draw was re-instated, leaving Power to take the plane back to Amsterdam
where he had been training.

WISPA’s total for 2002
would have been even bigger had not a Mexican promoter cancelled his new
tournament because his sponsor had put his money into the soccer world
cup. And the way Shelley is talking to national governing bodies around
Europe, I would not be a bit surprise if her didn’t get another
tournament added before the end of the year.

? WHY?

There are these constant rumours of the women’s world champion retiring.
Alright, so she is 34 years old, but what has that got to do with the
price of chopped liver? She’s knocking spots off everybody, she
is entering her third unbeaten year and there are absolutely no signs
of slowing up. Coupled with the fact that WISPA prize money is increasing,
she would be mad to retire. Sometimes I think these are just hopeful rumours
spread by the other players.

As you have read here, the WSF sub-committee that is studying the subject
of one scoring method, is still taking in facts, figures and opinions.
The object is to settle on one scoring method for men, women and doubles,
so that the general public – and the International Olympic Committee
– do not get confused when watching the game. At present pro men
play point-a-rally to 15, pro women play hand-in to nine points and doubles
is p-a-r to 15. Club players, national and world championships all play
hand in to nine points.

We are not the only sport to
have a problem: Badminton are also trying to impress the IOC and trying
to make changes. It’s not a matter of hand-in (you can only score
a point when you serve) but whether women and men should play to the same
total points and best of five rather than best of three. The European
body came up with a directive and now the Brits are up in arms, refusing
point blank to follow the directive and are appealing to some European
court or other.

The essential point is not
which method of scoring is chosen, but that a common scoring method for
singles and doubles, pros and amateurs, is decided on. And that goes for
both squash and badminton. Tennis has never wavered from the scoring it
inherited from Real (court) Tennis, and so has never had a problem.

The other reason for optimism is that there was a bit of palace revolution
in the PSA and half the board of directors has been replaced. Rodney Eyles
of Australia and Mark Cairns of England decided not to stand for re-election
and so there were two open spots. Mark Chaloner decided that he was unhappy
with the ways things were being run in Cardiff, and made sure that a lot
of members who never normally bother to vote, used their franchise.

The result was a bit of a shock:
Robert Edwards and David Palmer, the president, were both voted off the
board. So Mark Chaloner and Alex Gough of Wales, Graham Ryding of Canada
and Martin McDonnell of Ireland were voted on. Even morepromising, a players
committee has been formed with new president Chaloner, at its head, to
ensure that the members have more say in the running of the organisation.

I was delighted at Edwards
departure: he had worked his way into a position of power as board director,
official presenter, at one time player manager and world tour technical
director. As soon as he become a director some years ago, he ousted Jonah
Barrington as television commentator and put himself in his place. (He
called himself the Voice of Squash). He used this power unwisely: certainly
to mitigate against the press. Whenever he was technical director, the
free press accommodation disappeared. Even at the world open, where Edwards
was technical director, a $155,000 event, there were just two free beds
provided. At the Tournament of Champions, a $60,000 event, John Nimick
regularly provided six beds for journalists at the Sheraton Hotel.

Edwards suffered from a large
ego and thin skin. Any criticism was met with revenge. Worse still, the
PSA board saw no conflict of interest with Edwards many roles. He still
holds the title of World tour technical director, but we can hope that
with the new board, the cordial relationships between press and the PSA
can be restored and that we will be encouraged to cover the PSA tour,
rather than stay away.

Another reason to look forward to the coming year is the way the PSA has
opened up at the top. The Nicol/Power battle was great fun, but like the
days of the unbeatable Jahangir, there is such a thing as being too predictable.
Last year saw the rise of Anthony Ricketts, Stu Boswell and John White
as they added consistency to their game. As the year wore on Peter Nicol’s
supremacy was being gradually eroded and Power picked up some good titles,
specially the Commonwealth Games Gold. But it was David Palmer and John
White who demonstrated – in the world open- that they mean to challenge
for the top spots, and challenge very seriously. White emerged as the
most dangerous player on the circuit, able to wipe anybody off the court
with his all –attacking, guns blazing arsenal of winners. From now
on, we can look for a real fight in the semis, with Boswell and Ricketts
able to upset even the top four and Ong Beng Hee and Thierry Lincou looking
hungrily for their share of the spoils. Any bets who is number one this
time next year? Don’t be surprised if three of the top five in December
2003 are Australian.

This coming year will be a good one for Pakistan – the best for
a long time. Their juniors won the world team title, a shock victory over
England, and their seniors are beginning to get results on the PSA tour.
With the Pakistan Squash Federation finally taking their junior coaching
seriously and bringing in coaches with experiences, the standard is rising
and producing results.

On the other hand, things do not look good for England. Simon Parke showed,
at 30, that he is still a formidable player, but as for new talent, who
is there but Lee Beachill? Adrian Grant has yet to produce the sort of
results that were expected of him and world junior champion James Willstrop
still needs a couple of years of hardening before he takes his place among
the top seniors.
What happened to England’s World Performance program? It was designed
to produce a whole bunch of top, professional players but an examination
of the PSA top thirty, shows mostly player of the past generation.

I shall be at the British
Junior Open Jan 3-6 reporting for Squashtalk, so it will be a chance to
have a look at the future talent, especially that of the US.

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