Olivia Blatchford is ready to play hard to get. The American professional squash player is tired of the sport presenting itself and begging the International Olympic Committee to include it in the quadrennial Games.
Bids to include squash, a sport played by over 16 million people worldwide in 185 countries, have failed in 2012, 2016, and 2020.
“You can’t convince a boyfriend to love you if he doesn’t love you anymore,” said Blatchford, the second-highest ranked American at no. 13 overall in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) rankings. “If you keep going back to him and begging him, you just make a fool out of yourself. You just have to leave him alone and he’ll come to you as soon as you play hard to get.”
In August 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved five new sports for the 2020 Games in Tokyo: baseball and softball return, while karate, sport climbing, and surfing will all be making their Olympic debuts. Squash continues to be left on the outside of the proverbial glass (court), looking in.
You can’t knock the World Squash Federation (WSF) for not trying. Former world no. 1 Nicol David has been active in the efforts, saying she would give up all of her world championship medals for Olympic gold. David has organized squash-themed flash mobs in New York City and her home nation of Malaysia in an effort to generate buzz around #BacktheBid2020.
For their 2024 Paris Games bid, the WSF and PSA have teamed up with Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading global communications and engagement firms. Camille Serme, the top-ranked female French player, at no. 3 in the world rankings, will present the bid.
“I really hope we have a chance this time,” Serme said at the 2018 Tournament of Champions in New York City. “I was disappointed we didn’t make it the last three times and I thought, ‘we’re never going to make it.’ [For this bid], we’re trying to organize a few events in France, trying to speak to the right people, and I’m trying to do as much as I can.”
There have been many theories as to why squash has been excluded in the Olympics. Some suggest squash is too hard to broadcast because the game is limited to a 21’ x 32’ glass box with two players moving at lightning speed to hit a small rubber ball. The PSA has invested in Squash TV in an effort to not only expand the sport among its existing fan base, but also to prove to the IOC that matches can be broadcast accordingly.
The other knock on squash is the lack of money surrounding the sport, whether it’s via endorsements, broadcasting, or prize money. Sure, the top-ranked players make a comfortable living, but it pales in comparison to that of pro baseball players, and they don’t have the brand recognition involved with a sport like surfing.
“I think we’re a great sport and it encompasses everything you’re looking for in a sport,” said Ali Farag, men’s world no. 3 and 2018 ToC semifinalist. “We’re growing at a good rate and showing we can grow without our involvement in the Olympics. Obviously it would be a great honor for us to get in there because it’s the biggest spectacle for any sport and such an honor to compete in the Olympics, but I believe we can keep growing and do our thing.”
Despite the 2024 Games being in France, one of the more squash-friendly countries, the sport’s inclusion in those Olympics isn’t a guarantee. Squash will face stiff competition from the rapidly growing Esports industry. Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee, told the Associated Press the inclusion of Esports will make the Olympics more relatable to younger generations. Esports have already been added as a medal event to the 2022 Asian Games.
For now, the WSF and PSA will do all they can to draw the attention of the IOC. New sports for the 2024 Olympics will come under discussion during the 134th IOC Session in September 2019 in Milan.
“People managing fake sports on the computer would be more equipped for the Olympic games than people playing an actual sport? It’s insane,” Blatchford said. “We embody the Olympic ideal — amateur athletes competing at the top levels — and for that to be overlooked is hard to stomach. The squash community loves us and we have a great appreciation for our athletes and if they [the IOC] don’t realize that, it’s their loss.”