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Squash in the Olympics

Squash in the Olympics

Perusing the World Squash Federation’s historical timeline, it’s evident that the sport enjoys a long and august past. Invented in the 1850s by boys at the Harrow School outside London, England, the game was initially referred to as baby racquets, soft racquets, or squash racquets. In 1884, St. Paul’s School teacher, James Conover, introduced the sport to the United States, and in the ensuing years, squash courts began to spring up around the globe. Ireland built its first in 1902, followed by Canada in 1904, and South Africa in 1906, and in 1921, Harvard College created the world’s first university team.

In the decades since, the sport has continued to gain in popularity. 1966 saw the formation of the International Squash Rackets Federation, which became the World Squash Federation (WSF) in 1992. Athletes have played matches around the world, including in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. Yet they have never played in the Olympic Games, despite the sport’s bids for inclusion in London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020, and Paris 2024. Curious about these continued denials, we asked members of Tabor’s squash community their thoughts on why the sport was meeting such resistance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and their hopes for the future of the game.

STEVE DOWNES

Squash Coach, Tabor Academy

As a squash coach at Tabor for the past 35 years—varsity boys’ head coach for the past nine—Steve Downes has seen the sport’s many benefits firsthand and would welcome its addition to the Olympics. “Squash offers players an intense, one-to-one competitive experience and requires a great deal of physical conditioning,” he observes. “And, I think any student you spoke to would comment on the terrific friendships they’ve formed playing the game.”

Squash has been played at Tabor since the 1960s, Downes says, and continues to grow in popularity. “The sport attracts a lot of students to the school, accomplished players as well as those who wish to learn the game.” This past term, for example, Downes notes that despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, 20 percent of the student body selected squash as their preferred winter sport.

Downes admits that the game continues to struggle for widespread recognition in the United States but cites its broad appeal in the rest of the world as a strong plus for adding it to the Olympic roster. “We’re seeing an increasing number of Chinese students coming to Tabor with squash experience and we have a number of accomplished players from Egypt and Columbia,” he observes. “And urban programs like SquashBusters and CitySquash are introducing a whole new generation to the fun and benefits of the game.”

ALY HUSSEIN ’19

Competed in the 2020-2021 PSA World Championship in July 2021

Quarterfinalist at the World Squash Federation World Junior Championships; finished seventh in the world, 2017 National

High School champion, 2018 & 2019 High School All-American, 2017-2019

Squash rank: 150th in the world

University of Virginia sophomore and Olympic hopeful Aly Hussein would love to see squash added to the Olympics, but he doubts it will happen anytime soon. “Egyptians currently dominate the sport, so there wouldn’t be widespread competition among countries,” he says candidly. Squash is also played in a court that doesn’t allow many spectators, he points out, which somewhat hampers its ability to attract attention. And finally, he adds, the sport doesn’t presently enjoy the large roster of sponsors that soccer and tennis do.

Nevertheless, Hussein remains a dedicated student. “Squash is good for your health—you have to move—and it’s had a positive effect on my personality as well,” he observes. “After 10 years of playing, I’ve learned to be tough mentally. When I’m down a match on the court, I have to think and act for myself, which is helpful when facing life’s challenges, too.”

NICK LACAILLADE ’03

Member of four National Championship teams, Trinity College, CT.

Nick Lacaillade was an avid squash player during his time at Tabor and later at Trinity College, where he ranked as the #2 American on the team. Lacaillade and his teammates took the national championship all four years. “We didn’t lose a match my entire time at Trinity,” he recalls. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Lacaillade finds squash’s lack of widespread popularity in the US somewhat mystifying.

“It’s played in many other countries around the world and it’s quite popular; in Egypt, for example, professional squash players are big heroes,” he observes. He also confesses to being somewhat baffled by the IOC’s continued refusal to allow the game into the Olympics. “Squash is a game of athleticism, finesse, and creativity that requires coordination, strength, and endurance, and in my opinion, it should be in the Olympics. Hopefully, someday it will be.”

GUILLERMO MORONTA ’02

Director of Squash, Tabor Academy

Guillermo Moronta has loved squash since discovering the sport through SquashBusters in the 6th grade. He leveraged the discipline and structure he found in the game to pursue his education, first at Tabor and then at Bates College. He coached the sport at Portsmouth Abbey, SquashSmarts, The Cynwyd Club, and Belmont Hill School before returning to Tabor in 2019.

“Squash is a great game,” says Moronta. “It’s one of the healthiest sports you can play, it’s a lifetime sport, you don’t need a bunch of people to play, and the cost of entry isn’t high.” Unfortunately, despite these benefits and the fact that the game is played by people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, Moronta admits the sport remains unknown to many. And that makes a successful Olympic bid a tough nut to crack. “I don’t think enough people have a vested interest in it, and we struggle to attract sponsors that are widely recognizable to a big cross-section of people.”

ELEANOR (ELLIE) PIERCE ’84

1995 Women’s National Champion

Two-Time British Open 40+ Champion

Tabor Academy Athletic Hall of Fame, 2016

Ellie Pierce has been involved in squash long enough to witness many important changes. For her first two years at Tabor, there was no girls’ team, so Pierce played with the boys. “I was in the first class of girls at the Academy after it went co-ed and there weren’t many sports for women yet,” she explains. Pierce soon rectified that. Two years after arriving at Tabor, she founded a girls’ team, then was recruited to play in college at Trinity, “a powerhouse for squash.”

Pierce ultimately made the game her profession, playing extensively in the US and abroad. A member of eight US national teams and the Women’s National Champion in 1995, Pierce was also on the first squash team to represent the US in the Pan- American Games, held in Argentina that same year. “Those are our Olympics,” she observes. Pierce maintained a presence in the sport for decades, twice claiming the title of British Open 40+ Champion and coaching for 25 years. And although she would love to see squash admitted to the Olympics, she no longer holds out much hope. “Gaining admission to the Olympic Games is an extremely competitive process and very political, so a lot of decisions have to fall your way,” she explains.

The fluid nature of the sport’s history has also handicapped its bids, Pierce continues. “Unfortunately, I don’t think our sport is organized enough around the world to mount an effective campaign for inclusion,” she says, her voice filled with regret. “Our game has been through massive changes over the years— the type of ball, the scoring system, the size of the court. And the rules for college play are different than professional play. I think this lack of consistency keeps the sport from gaining traction. I’d love to see squash in the Olympics, but I just don’t think it will happen.”

CHRIS SMITH ’93

Associate Athletic Director and Head Boys & Girls Squash Coach, St. Paul’s School

US Squash Top 50 Coaches, 2015, 2016

Former Men’s & Women’s Assistant Squash Coach, Director of Recruiting, Harvard University

Former USA Jr National Team Head Coach

Asked his opinion as to why squash has repeatedly been denied entry into the Olympics by the IOC, Coach Chris Smith hesitates. “There’s a lot to unpack,” he concedes. “The IOC’s decision-making process is complicated, and even though the World Squash Federation (WSF) has worked very hard to get the sport admitted into the Games, they’ve consistently been outmaneuvered by other sports.”

Although Smith would love for every squash player to have the chance to compete in the Olympics, he believes that at this point the WSF’s money could be better spent by putting the sport in people’s living rooms through streaming services, YouTube, etc. “The sport has modernized itself in an effort to win entry into the Olympics and is now more exciting than ever before,” he observes. “The Olympics would be great, but honestly, we don’t need that platform. The world championships for squash would be bigger than the Olympics and it already exists, so let’s put that in front of people.”