EDITORIAL: Squash, a successful sport or enemy of the common man?

Guyana’s unprecedented 13th overall team championship in the 2022 Junior Caribbean Area Squash Association (CASA), which was attained on local soil, has brought the discipline front and centre in the ever-evolving sports discussions.

Thirteen overall titles -12 of which were secured in a consecutive manner – are unmatched in the CASA region, as the Guyanese continue to rule the roost at the junior level. In the senior CASA ranks, Guyana can lay claim to four overall team titles.

On the individual front, Nicolette Fernandes, Guyana’s best sport export during the last two decades, has captured six women’s senior CASA titles. She also won gold at the 2006 CAC Games, 2010 South American Games, a historic 2022 Pan Am Senior Squash Championship title, a World Masters Over-35 title among other silver and bronze medal acquisitions.

The squash community, though small, and which is led by the Guyana Squash Association (GSA), must be commended for its unparalleled levels of success at the regional strata, a feat unmatched by most local federations, particularly at the junior section.

However, for all its Caribbean success both at the senior, but primarily at the junior division that resulted in deserved praise and adulation, the issue which has brought the sport under the proverbial microscope, is its lack of inclusivity on the local front.

The subject matter up for discourse is not on the diversity of thought or ethnicity, but the multiplicity of class, a singularity that has quietly engulfed the sport since its local inception.

American football coach, and former player, Mike Singletary, who won Super Bowl XX, once said, “Do you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.” Visionary words indeed!

Squash is associated with excellence. Guyana Olympic Association (GOA) Vice-President Godfrey Munroe uttered this position. Empirically, the manner in which the sport is administered cannot be faulted and its subsequent and ensuring success is a by-product of such structures.

Interestingly, GSA President, Owen Verwey, at the official opening ceremony of the 2022 championship, said that the discipline provides an avenue for networking, a benefit that can be utilised in business and investment as well as career opportunities and endeavours.

While the monologue also alluded to the spirit of competition as well as the human and social tenets and by-products of competitive play, a large portion also seemed more destined or fitting for a chamber of commerce forum.

However, it is easy to administer and govern a sport that historically, is predicated on wealth and is only afforded to a sliver of the populace. For all its success, squash has been at the forefront, intentionally or otherwise, of competitive and public discrimination.

How else can you justify a sport not having any public clubs which are accessible via the simplest of avenues to all and sundry? The Georgetown Club, a hub and bastion for the elite since its inception, and the subsequent pretenders and wannabes, cannot be viewed as a proverbial port of entry for everyone.

The National Racquet Centre certainly doesn’t have a public club but modestly houses the facility for the sport which is readily and easily accessible to the federation for local, and international campaigns, as well as possible training.

It is rather unfortunate, and frankly disappointing that no executive in recent memory has ever publicly pushed for the establishment of public clubs, which will directly impact the growth of the sport in a positive manner.

And what is the excuse for not seeking such an objective? It is disheartening to believe or even suggest that the inability to formulate such a plan for the communal growth of the discipline was intentional; an unholy effort to maintain and publicise an elitist status.

Squash’s success means nothing if the sport cannot be accessible to everyone… a reality that certainly exists and seems destined to continue, given the silence of its current and past administrations on plans to integrate the sport at the community level.

Would children from impoverished communities be welcome at the sport’s current mecca, the Georgetown Club, to learn the basics and eventual intricacies of the game? The answer eludes the writer of this missive. Their mere presence, unfortunately, might create a somewhat uncomfortable sensation for all parties, given their humble social class.

Even hockey, a sport that shares a somewhat similar cultural phenomena with squash, has adapted to not only survive, but grow and improve the overall quality of the discipline.

The national men’s team is evidence of such a civic and encompassing approach. Why has squash not opted for this same mantra? Are they afraid that the glint and status associated with discipline, which can be described as a hobby of the wealthy, and exercise for the affluent, will be diluted?

No idea or concept is above scrutiny. As such, squash should not be spared any criticism despite its successes. In life, valuable currency is the ability to reason. Therefore, is squash really just a beacon of excellence or is it a refuge and a resort for the bourgeois, nouveau riche, and social climbers?

Hiding in plain sight, the sport has become an overlooked coefficient and an unintentional and serendipitous partner in discrimination. This is palpable by the cadre of individuals who represent the country at the championships, and the personnel who parade and have access to the venue.

Despite not being accessible to a majority of the population, this niche discipline is afforded the opportunity to access GOA funding and government assistance, a mechanism or subvention which is made possible via the regressive taxation of the common man.

It should be worth mentioning here that squash has been named by the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sport as one of the 12 core sports that are eligible for official support. Of course, one wonders how a sport that lacks the accessibility of the other 11 [Badminton, Basketball, Cricket, Football, Hockey, Lawn Tennis, Rugby, Swimming, Table Tennis, Track and Field, and Volleyball] be designated as such.

Frankly, how does an interested adolescent from say, Sophia, gain access to the ‘hallowed’ halls of the Georgetown Club to engage in the discipline? If memory serves correctly, the vetting process for acceptance is not a casual affair.

Curiosity also compels one to ask how come boxing, which is the only sport to have medalled at the Olympics, or chess, is not on the list of core sports. They both are certainly more egalitarian in their acceptance of all-comers and likely no more of a strain on the public purse. For example, in the case of chess, competitions can, and have been held online.

And on to this business of sponsorship and adulation coming from the GOA… squash is not even listed as an Olympic sport according to the International Olympic committee. So what is the real connection here?

Let us return briefly to the matter of core sports. How about golf? How did it get leapfrogged by squash? Golf has been endorsed fully by the Ministry of Education, is part of the sports curricula in many schools, and is deemed eligible for study at the CXC exams in the Physical Education subject area. It is also an Olympic sport. However, one doubts that the sport has received a similar embrace from the GOA.

Maybe the perception is that their mere presence, that of the working-class clan, might ‘corrupt’ a discipline, which has always boasted an elitist aura. This issue certainly is not rooted in race or diversity, it is an observation about class, an occurrence which is ever present on local shores given our ethnic makeup, and at times political leanings.

For all the limitations, challenges, and barriers, deliberate or unmeant, Squash can be viewed through a ‘colonial lens’ as the last stand or defence of high society against commonality.

The mere fact that several of the competing nations were unable to field complete squads during the team section of the tournament is indicative of the sport’s status within the region. It is essentially an outlier within the sporting spectrum – a pastime of the wealthy.