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ALL PLANS SQUASHED

Friday, July 15, 2016
Photographs By Trupti Arekar

With the Rio Olympics Games 20 days away, squash players across the world are have been expressing their anguish over the Olympic Council's decision to keep their sport out of the arena. Their squash bids have been repeatedly squashed and sent to the bin. Players in India, too have been expressing their frustration about the exclusion. Cyrus Poncha, Squash Coach to the Indian team and Dronacharya Awardee speaks exclusively with Afternoon D&C's Neil Joshi about the game’s failure to make it to Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020 and how he hopes that they can make it to the courts at the 2024 Olympics.

There was a continuous effort to put the case of squash before the International Olympic Council. What areas do you feel that squash failed to earn a berth?
Definitely, in my view squash has made it very close to the Olympics. We lost very closely in 2008 and then again for 2016 Rio Olympics and now in 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The World Squash Federation President, N. Ramachandran is from India and I have seen him work effortlessly for our cause. We have left no stone unturned to get in to the Olympics. Unfortunately, the International Olympic Council [IOC]  didn't agree. It is quite sad and disappointing even after being short-listed for Tokyo. IOC decided to remove squash which was very sad as that was our goal.

During the bidding process for the Tokyo Olympics, many sportspersons from different sports came out in support of squash? Despite the backing, IOC wasn't convinced?
When friends and players ask me whether we are going to the Olympics, I say 'squash isn't an Olympic sport' and they are left shocked. Everyone expects and believes that squash should be an Olympic sports which we are not.

Japan doesn’t have a strong tradition of squash. Do you think that that worked against the game?
It didn't work in our favour. But who am I to tell IOC what to do? But certainly we are not pleased with what happened.

The bids for the 2024 Olympics has four cities which are short-listed -Rome, Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles. Considering the growing popularity in these regions, you feel the game will make it in 2024?
Absolutely! There was no reason for us not being in the arena in 2016 and 2020 but we are hopeful for the future games. It is every squash player's dream to play in the Olympics and it is something every squash player would die for.

How popular has the game become on the European circuit and in the United States over the past few years?
I believe in Europe squash is thriving. Likewise, in USA, squash is on the way up. What they do there is play with a hard ball and when we convert that and play with a soft ball it becomes squash. France has a good history of squash players. Currently, two of the top five players in the world (Grégory Gaultier, Rank 2 & Mathieu Castagnet, Rank 7) are from France, so I am quite confident, squash will put its nose into the next Olympic Games.

Many Indians who are currently playing in the international circuit may not be around eight years down the line...
Yes, you can say that now. But if I was asked the same question eight years ago, I wouldn't have imagined the results we have achieved in the last eight to 10 years. If things work according to our plans, we would have more Saurav Ghosals' and Joshna Chinappa. Dipika Pallikal is the younger one among them and she could very well be playing eight years down the line. So I am never going to say it isn't going to be possible.

How is the national federation contributing towards the growth of squash?
I was earlier based in Mumbai, but I moved to Chennai where the Indian squash Academy was created under the guidance of the Tamil Nadu Squash Racquets Association. So that has given squash the impetus to give the sport a go-ahead. In the past five years, we have started holding many tournaments in the junior circuit. We have 15-20 tournaments for them.

What goes against the sport is that it has failed to penetrate in to the tier II and III cities. Isn't this a drawback?
Squash is certainly gaining ground. But yes, it is not in every town. That is what we have to work on. We are looking to emulate what Egypt has done with the sport.

Who are the prospective stars on the squash circuit?
There is Ranjit Singh from New Delhi and Velavan Senthilkumar from Chennai who are proving their mettle. In the younger age group we have Tushar Shahani, Veer Chotrani and Aryaman Adik.

[L-R] Squash players Dipika Pallikal, Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa pose for AD&C on the sidelines of the National Sqash Championship yesterday.

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