Olympic Bid Suffers Potential Setback Amid Multiple Defaults In Hong Kong
by Rob Dinerman

Dateline December 1st --- It would be difficult to imagine a more grievous blow being dealt to squash’s Olympic-bid aspirations --- or a more self-inflicted one ---- than occurred yesterday in the quarterfinal round of the PSA World Series Hong Kong Open, which had been designated as the “showcase” event to impress the IOC members who had made it known that they were planning to be in attendance in order to evaluate squash’s candidacy for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games. Of the four scheduled matches, only one was played through to its conclusion in a disastrous day marred by two walkovers and one late-match retirement, i.e. three defaults in four matches, a possible death knell for the sport’s bid.

There was a tremendous build-up to this tournament, which was planning to feature superior television coverage and an unparalleled presentation of the sport --- Alan Thatcher, who played so major a role in the success of World Squash Day earlier this autumn, properly stated the importance of this tournament going well when he noted (see this web site’s “Time To Deliver” post of November 27th) in an exhortatory message to the players shortly before the event began that “As the Hong Kong Open welcomes a group of visiting officials from the IOC, making an official inspection, we can only hope that the tournament delivers everything we believe our sport can offer the Olympic Games.”

What it offered instead were a perfunctory 11-7, 7 and 4 tally by top seed James Willstrop over Borja Golan; walkover wins by Nick Matthew and Karim Darwish (both of whose respective opponents, Amr Shabana and Peter Barker, cited late-match injuries in their Thursday round-of-16 wins, while also professing their wish to be at full strength for the World Open tournament which begins late next week); and a Ramy Ashour vs. Greg Gaultier match in which the latter, trailing two games to one and 10-3 in the fourth (in other words, with seven match-balls against him), chose to default rather than finish the game out after a mid-court collision in which both players were shaken up.

One has to wonder what the IOC officials must have concluded about the viability of squash’s attempt to be selected over the other contending sports in the aftermath of witnessing three defaults in four matches. Both Shabana, who bruised his left rib cage in a tumble shortly before the conclusion of his match against Tom Richards, and Barker, who strained a hamstring muscle, have long and proud resumes --- as of course does Gaultier, a British Open winner --- and both clearly tried their best (in each case resorting to physical-therapy and/or painkillers in between matches) to recover in time to answer the bell. Whether Gaultier did the right thing in declining to play that one extra point, which would have at least salvaged a second completed match in a day that already had two defaults on the books, is certainly a matter of opinion.

Either way, anyone who was closely aligned with the WPSA pro hardball tour that had such a compelling 15-year run from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s, remembering how many times an aging and aching Sharif Khan, knowing how important his presence was to the tournaments in that tour’s early years, willed himself through many of those weekends, or how often Mark Talbott and other leading lights like Ned Edwards, Mario Sanchez, Clive Caldwell and John Nimick similarly always managed to answer the call, would have to conclude that, one way or another, in an event with the magnitude that fate devolved upon this Hong Kong Open, they would have found a way to make it onto the court, and, once on, to stay there until the last point had been registered.

$150,000 Men's Hong Kong Open Quarterfinal Recap:

James Willstrop d. Borja Golan, 11-7 11-7 11-4

Karim Darwish d. Peter Barker, Walkover

Ramy Ashour d. Greg Gaultier, 8-11 11-8 11-8 10-3, Retired, Injury

Nick Matthew d. Amr Shabana, Walkover

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