GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) - Lessons from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, including placing the squash court inside a movie studio, will be applied to the Paris Olympics in 2024 if the sport is accepted into the programme, according to the world governing body’s president.
The World Squash Federation (WSF) has lobbied since 2005 for the sport to join the Olympics, but failed three times and were ‘devastated’ after missing out on the programme for Tokyo 2020.
The sport, however, has been part of the Commonwealth Games since 1998 and WSF President Jacques Fontaine said the Gold Coast tournament had demonstrated a cost effective approach that he hoped might help their bid for the Paris Games.
“You have seen how it has been arranged here,” he told Reuters at the Oxenford venue, where organisers have built the courts and all-glass main show court on a massive sound stage at a local movie studio. “They use a big picture studio.
“We have a big picture studio in Paris,” he added of filmmaker Luc Besson’s Cite du Cinema complex.
“It would be very easy and we are working hard to ensure the organising committee does not need to spend extra money, which is one of the key issues now with an Olympics. The cost.”
A decision on which sports make the Paris programme is expected after the 2020 Tokyo Games.
While having a low impact on the bottom line would be a positive factor for the sport’s bid, Fontaine, who became WSF chief in November 2016, was mindful they could not get too far ahead of themselves.
“We have a saying in French ‘don’t skin the bear without first killing it’,” he added. “We have come back from three failures. We have learned a lot, but I don’t want to sound stupidly optimistic, because we have to keep working.”
Fontaine added that a partnership agreement signed last year between the WSF and the Professional Squash Association (PSA), which organises the professional tour, was now fundamental to their bid.
The PSA have introduced several innovations, including hosting matches in iconic venues like New York’s Grand Central Station and developing new technology that tracks player performance to try to widen its reach.
Last month it also introduced a more integrated pathway into the professional ranks.
“This agreement is incredibly important,” Fontaine said. “We needed to have all the details in place to ensure the best possible candidacy.”
Fontaine added the agreement with the PSA would ensure the sport’s top players would be available for the Olympics.
At February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang the ice hockey competition was played without NHL players after a long-running dispute with the International Olympic Committee was not resolved.
Several top golfers and tennis players also made themselves unavailable for the Rio Games, while men’s soccer has traditionally been an age-restricted tournament ensuring the best players are not on show.
Despite having a history back to the 1830s and the fact it is played in 185 countries, one of the criticisms of the sport in the modern age has been that it lacks recognisable names that sponsors can attach themselves to.
Television broadcasting has also been an issue.
However, introducing a white ball, totally transparent glass courts, bright lighting and the use of high definition cameras from multiple angles by the PSA to show how the sport could be compelling viewing had eliminated those issues, Fontaine said.
“That is a question we can not avoid,” he said. “The clarity of picture provided by PSA TV and whether you can see the ball to follow the game, is no longer a question.
“The thing is that we still have a problem convincing people that squash is a game for television.
“But the facts show it is not a problem now.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly