Dear International Olympic Committee and the International Sport Federation,
It is with a heavy heart that I anticipate the festivities of the upcoming London-based Olympic season. While your program of events features perennial favorites including rhythmic gymnastics, slalom canoeing and the ever-popular Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as an intriguing cast of newcomers such as women’s boxing, it has come to my attention that the IOC has repeatedly slighted a certain number of sports for several years running. In particular, I was most disappointed to learn of the IOC’s 2009 exclusion of squash from the Qatar lineup, which means that any hopes of the sport attaining Olympic status before 2016 have been, well, squashed.
I am making this appeal to the IOC in light of my recent attendance of the Princeton-Yale squash match this Saturday last, an experience that cemented my conversion from squash ignoramus to squash neophyte brimming with a newcomer’s enthusiasm for the sport. Initially planning to meander through the labyrinth of courts composing Princeton’s squash complex for only a few matches, I found myself so mesmerized by the game that I ended up extending my sojourn in Jadwin by five hours.
These five hours were spent marveling at the tremendous mental and physical preparation demanded by a game of squash. Squash is a gentleman’s sport, to be sure, but it is my personal opinion that squash players might be more suited to a reality show like Fear Factor than The Bachelor. I claim this based on my observation that the players, upon their entrance to the court, are locked into a little glass box measuring only 21 ft in width. Squash is certainly not a game for the claustrophobic, nor for the faint of heart. Players have nothing to defend themselves against the high-speed rubber balls their wrathful opponent sends their way, save for a delicate pair of plastic goggles and a flimsy racket. Incidents where players obstruct one another can lead to violent verbal exchanges, and the screech of hands sliding down sweat-streaked walls is a sound agonizing enough to haunt even Chuck Norris’ nightmares. Sessions in this sweatbox last roundabout thirty minutes, but have the potential to run for over two hours depending on the length of the game’s rallies.
That’s not to suggest, by any means, that squash is a humorless game of blood, sweat and tears. In fact, squash affords its players numerous opportunities for playful personal ornamentation. I found the vibrant tiger-striped bandana sported by a Princeton player, for instance, to be a tasteful addition to the Princeton squash wardrobe last Saturday. Said bandana was certainly a far more appreciable alternative to the custom-made jerseys that the Bulldog boys adorned with nicknames esoteric to audiences beyond the Yale team.
In my time at Jadwin, I also began to feel a strong affection to my standfellows. Squash fans are not only considerably better dressed than the average sports fan, but also exceedingly more polite. I was exceptionally grateful that it was a squash enthusiast and not a leering football hooligan who approached me after a bout of particularly energetic cheering to politely inform me that, like in tennis, squash spectators are meant to cheer only between points, not while a point is in play. I thus feel it my duty as a recently inducted squash fan to communicate my lamentations with regards to the lack of recognition of squash by the Olympic community.
Unfortunately for the dedicated young men and women of Princeton squash, however, upstanding fans and lucky bandanas are not enough to guarantee a spot at the Olympics. In the summer of 2009, squash was the second of seven candidates to be voted out for the 2016 games, losing out to golf and rugby sevens. Thus, the addition of an Olympic gold medal to Ivy League Championship swag (I’ve been told the men, currently undefeated, will receive rings this year?) will remain the stuff of dreams for Princeton squash players for at least another five years.
This verdict is rendered especially disappointing when considering all the ways in which squash could enliven the Olympic program of events. For one, squash is the bearer of a proud and fascinating history. Squash emerged in its most primitive form in 12th century France, where monks developed archaic racquets that they used in a game of hurling a ball at a net strung across the monastery courtyard. By the 15th century, the sport had migrated from French monasteries to British debtor’s jails, upon which point a gang of inmates in London’s Fleet Prison decided they needed some exercise. Taking up the concept of racket sports, these convicts decided to do away with the presence of nets completely and start hitting balls off of walls instead. By doing so, they solidified a permanent dichotomy between squash and tennis. Over the next few centuries, squash spread throughout the English private school system, and made great international advances in the 20th century.
This distinctly international vibe is another attractive quality of squash that the IOC would do well to acknowledge. The IOC has stipulated that in order for a sport to qualify for candidacy for inclusion in the Summer Olympics, it must be widely practiced in at least 75 countries. Squash certainly meets these standards, with 188 countries possessing at least one squash court. It is also worth mentioning that many of these countries are not traditional Olympic powerhouses. World-class squash players hail from all over the globe, boasting a colorful troupe of characters that includes athletes from Egypt, Bangladesh and Malaysia, as well as several British and Australian knights. Instead of the Williams sisters, squash has the Khan’s – a slew of Pakistani players who dominated the game in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Unlike Venus and Serena, Jahangir and Jansher Khan are, to the best of my knowledge, unrelated, although both displayed enviable mustaches in their glory days at the British Open.
Moreover, I take issue with the recent recognition of golf as a 2016 Olympic sport, if such recognition occurs at the expense of squash. With all due respect to golf, as I have encountered many a fine Princeton golfer in my time on campus, there are several sports aficionados, namely my Uncle Bob, who would gripe that golf is more aptly described as a “game” than a “sport.” Uncle Bob, born and raised in the boonies of Indiana, is a venerable Hoosier who devotes whatever time he does not spend husking corn to astute study of athletics. According to his classification system, “sports” are differentiated from “games” by the fact that they entail physical exertion. It is true that golfers and their caddies rack up many miles tramping to and fro across the course, retrieving misplaced putts, dodging gophers and the like. But within the parameters of actual play, golf requires no physical movement from place to place. Squash, on the other hand, demands an astounding 600-1000 calories per hour from its athletes, and was rated the number one healthiest sport to play by Forbes magazine in 2003.
Additionally, I would like to point out the correlation between the name of squash the sport and the name of the fruit of a certain garden-variety plant belonging to the gourd family. This coincidental etymological connection allows for an infinite range of squash-related puns, jokes, and all-around wordplay, widening the opportunities for audience interaction by making squash a game of wit as well as athletic prowess.
Please find attached in support of my appeal to the IOC a petition from the learned authorities who comprise the executives of the World Squash Federation, along with a steaming hot bowl of butternut squash soup.