For the first time since I started publishing this magazine and following the sport as closely as I have for the past 17 years, I felt the true potential of our great game for the Olympics. That happened a few weeks ago when I pulled up the Men’s World Team Championship event online, in my Seattle office, as it was being played in Mulhouse, France.
While it is true that there are some terrific events staged around the world every year, including the US Open in Philadelphia and the Tournament of Champions in New York City, there was a different look and feel to the staging of the Men’s Team event. The easy observation is that the tournament featured three all-glass showcourts. We’re talking about three courts, side-by-side, separately lit, with dramatic matches being played simultaneously. The only facility I’m aware of, anywhere, with three glass courts is at Yale, and those three are far apart from each other so that they are just, well, cool. Seeing the layout in France was AWESOME!
And the timing couldn’t be better. With Squash now shortlisted by the International Olympic Committee, along with Wrestling and Baseball/Softball, the sport of squash put its best foot forward and demonstrated what could be if we are finally so fortunate as to join the Olympic Games in 2020.
As Gilly Lane pointed out after the event was over, being able to see and hear the action taking place on courts just had to be cool. Sure, you can get some of that feel in more traditional venues, but with most courts one has to “wander over to neighboring courts” to see what’s going on.
When I first saw the layout of the glass courts, I wondered whether it might be
distracting to players who were actually on court to see matches taking place right
next to them. But that issue was apparently well-accounted for by “staggering”
the courts such that the court in the center was pulled back from the outer courts.
But it wasn’t only the layout of the gym with the three glass courts that I found intriguing.
It was the ability to pull up any of the three courts online, on demand. A couple Olympics ago, NBC finally started streaming a lot of the events during the Olympics. At first what I found compelling about that was simply having the ability to watch whatever I wanted rather than being
stuck with just the network and cable TV broadcast. If I wanted to watch some
table tennis, or team handball, or any other event, I could. By the time the Olympics
reached London in 2012, NBC had really gotten it right with its online streaming
by making virtually every minute of every sport available for viewing.
So when I visited the Men’s Team Championships website and found that I could do that with each of the three glass courts, I was essentially in squashstreaming-bliss. Okay, a little over the top, but really. It was very cool.
To top it off, this year’s event also provided compelling drama that created the emotional display by players that is usually reserved for big-time events. When Nick Matthew secured a critical win over France’s Gregory Gaultier to propel England into the team final, his leap into the air with fists pumping would have been perfect for Olympic drama. The next day even more came when James Willstrop sealed the deal for England over Egypt and was beaming afterwards with his teammates joining in. It was an Olympian Squash Moment if ever I’ve seen one.
With just under two months left before the fate of squash and the Olympics is decided, let’s hope that the sport has done enough to sway the decision makers of the IOC. If you haven’t seen for yourself what the Olympic Squash venue could look like, Google the Men’s World Team Championships and check it out. It’s what squash dreams are made of.