Barrington welcomes Olympic inclusion
Squash’s historic inclusion at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles could prove to be a turning point for the sport in England, writes squash legend and England Squash Vice President Jonah Barrington.
I believe that, finally, there is the golden opportunity to change the course of our game in England. I would say this to all national governing bodies. Our country now has the wherewithal to determine a modern resurgence in a sport which is like no other.
As we have frustratingly suffered so many disappointments, I have always said that squash, regardless of exclusion from the Olympics, is one of the ultimate survivors – there can be no doubt about that. However, I am certain that Olympic participation and what comes with that could and should provide us with the most wonderful opening to change forever, for the good at all levels, the course we have almost been forced to follow.
Now that we have breached, what has for so long seemed like a closed shop, we have to seize the day.
Enormous media attention will be bestowed upon the 2028 participants and we are fully justified in remembering that England has historically been the core and driving force of the game in the past. That is not so today as so many other countries have joined the lists and forged their own pathways, however, I firmly believe that England Squash is positioned to show the way once again to so many other partners globally.
We have this unique window to sell our Olympic emergence over the next five years, to utilise the tale of our wanton rejection, and now finally gain our place at the top table. Every day we should be seeking out ways to publicise that we will be at the Olympics, and with constant endeavour, ingenuity, and infinite creativity, sell the excitement to boys and girls across the country. I am not privy to the internal workings of England Squash, but I am sure that everybody will understand the magnitude of this moment.
England has always had considerable success competitively at European, World, and Commonwealth Games level. Peter Nicol, Nick Mathew, James Willstrop, and Gina Kennedy, most recently, have won singles gold medals. Others too have medalled, including Lee Beechill (bronze) and the mighty Laura Massaro (silver), there have been numerous triumphs in doubles and so many other players have flown the flag and provided prime contributions.
Inclusion in the Olympics provides an unbelievable incentive for our older stars, especially our most recent additions, the ElShorbagy brothers, to stay in the game.
Just imagine the excitement coursing through the veins of all the aspiring men and women who have a chance of selection and to emulate England’s greats.
Then we come to Gina, contending now at world level and spearheading perhaps the strongest group of English women for many years currently springing to the surface. What an adrenaline rush for young people like Katie Malliff and Jonah Bryant who are already making their senior mark.
The elite programme is very well organised under David Campion (who was in my under 10’s national squad) and my old friend Chris Robertson. I firmly believe that now is the time to reach out to all coaches plying their trade throughout England. Particularly those who work with and nurture young players of the future, who are doing the vital motivating and development, but are too often the forgotten ones. They are a vital component in the reemergence of our sport at grassroots. Importantly, all coaches at all levels must be made well aware that they are regarded as an extension of the national team and play a key part of a renewed, exciting drive to sell our amazing sport. Nobody must be allowed to feel unrecognised or an outsider.
There was a time when squash was almost unfilmable, and the ball was scarcely visible. That was always flung in our faces. Not so now. Show courts in extraordinary places, often iconic venues and the quality of the television production is outstanding and improving every year. There is so much creative thinking in that regard.
We must with no delay, no hesitancy, turn our minds to how best to spread the word at grassroots, the bottom of the pyramid. To use the utmost ingenuity to plant ourselves into the schools and communities, to counter our many competitors. England Squash has a series of initiatives in place, Squash Stars, Squash Girls Can, and Squash from the Mosque immediately come to mind. It is imperative that we connect with the many dedicated people in clubs running private programmes, for example, the Off the Wall schools programme, Tim Smith in Cornwall, and James Willstrop et al. in Pontefract.
I would just love to see everybody uniting under an umbrella of motivation with clear purpose, and an awareness across our nation that squash has firmly found its feet again.
Not only for the very few with the unbelievable excitement of playing in the Olympic Games, and becoming forever Olympians, but for all of us with the joy of at last taking our rightful place at the forefront of sport in our country.