Squash has justifiably made Guyana proud
Stabroek News
January 23, 2002

Dear Editor,

Relative to Mr. Rasheed's letter entitled "How many people play squash?" (SN January 16, 2002) I agree with him on both points that the number of squash players and those who have access to squash facilities is small.

But I believe his comments are unduly harsh and require a context within which they can be fairly judged. Squash: Animal, Plant, Mineral or Sport?

Mr. Rasheed's is correct in stating that many people are not familiar with the game. This letter, in part, attempts to explain this fact. Squash is a racket sport which consists of two players enclosed in a large two storey room (called the court which is an area slightly bigger than half of a tennis court). The players compete by alternating hitting a small rubber ball (the size of a golf ball) with their rackets onto a front wall while using the four walls of the court to out-manoeuvre their opponent to win points. It is one of the most physically gruelling, yet artistic sports in the world.

At the most basic level, themajority of sports can be classified in two main categories: endurance where there is a premium on strong legs and lungs (football, athletics), and hand eye co-ordinated sports, where the premium is in the skill of the hands (golf, table tennis). I believe only a select few sports rely heavily on both attributes.

My point is that squash requires an extraordinarily high level of both fitness and skill and the inherent beauty of the sport has been, and continues to be, unfamiliar and therefore unappreciated by the general public. Limited public exposure to the game is a global problem and can be traced to the issue of viewability. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, it is hard to televise the game and follow a small ball moving so quickly on the screen (the ball can reach speeds of up to 150mph). Secondly, TV coverage is a function of corporate advertising interests, and corporate logos on court walls would disrupt players' ability to see the ball. It is for these reasons that squash lost out to beach volleyball as a demonstration sport at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. At a local level, viewing capacity in Guyana is restricted to a few hundred spectators due to the confines imposed by an enclosed concrete court. It is therefore no surprise that squash does not get the exposure it clearly deserves.

The number of courts is low in the country due to the high capital cost of construction. Like golf and tennis, squash facilities are expensive to build and therefore rests in predominantly private ownership. While I am confident it remains a strategic objective of the Guyana Squash Association ("GSA") to promote the sport as widely as possible within the country, such capital expenditure can only originate from government. In 1984, after another successful Caribbean Championships where Guyana won all of the silverware, the then Prime Minister Hamilton Green, had verbally conveyed an intention to build squash courts in Georgetown schools. Given the economic hardship then and now, this dream is unlikely to materialise. If Mr. Rasheed's argument is one of familiarity, hopefully the above explains why squash is not as familiar a sport as say, tennis. If the argument is one of accessibility, Mr. Rasheed should equally marginalize, inter alia, tennis, auto racing and rifle shooting. But the only difference between these sports is squash's consistent success over the years. This correlation between success and criticism is illogical, unjust and disheartening. Squash should not be criticised because of its limitations, but praised for its obvious success despite these limitations. Mr. Rasheed comments that the Georgetown squash facilities are only available to those of a certain social/financial status. This point is closely related to the fact that only certain institutions in the private sector can find it economically viable to build squash courts at such high costs. Furthermore, relative to squash, the majority of sports require a higher financial investment.

Additionally, it should be noted that squash's success has relied on a GSA coaching programme which is open to the public. Many current and past national players have never been members of the private institutions which host this programme, and the financial requirement for participation (for equipment) is less than the cost of a cricket bat.

I invite Mr. Rasheed or any member of the public to assess this GSA sponsored programme fairly. I do not agree with Mr. Rasheed's more conceptual argument of the definition of a national sport. Squash is a legitimate National Sport as it is officially recognised by the national sporting authorities (NSC, Ministry of Sport, GOA). It is arguably the most consistently successful sport in Guyana over the past 20 years at both regional and international levels. It should also not escape anyone's attention that the GSA has had one of the highest number of Sports Association of the Year Award nominations since the Award was established in the mid 1980s.

Mr. Rasheed also believes that squash as a national sport is an insult to young Guyanese. I would like to suggest, however, that in a country where there is little to cheer about, Ms. Fernandes, and others, have done us proud and helped to place Guyana on the international sporting map. If anything, I believe Ms. Fernandes represents a role model for young Guyanese; an example of success, a symbol of hope, and a motivator for self belief. Guyanese should share in a collective pride at her international achievements. I do not recall any public resentment towards the Jamaican bobsled team when only a select four were chosen to represent the island at the Winter Olympics Games, despite achieving far less than anything Ms. Fernandes and others in squash ever have. In closing, I believe Mr. Rasheed's question should be "How Can We Increase the Number of People Playing Squash?" Guyana needs to encourage one of the few success stories we have, not try to dismantle it.

Yours faithfully

Roger Arjoon