By Mike Rowbottom - 18 March 2009

For those backing the seven sports seeking a way into the Olympics, these are nervy days.

With two spaces currently on offer at the 2016 Games, there will be a collective intake of breath by those championing squash, rugby sevens, golf, karate, rollersports, softball and baseball when International Olympic Committee members cast their votes at their October session in Copenhagen.
By then, however, it will be too late for the sports to alter their fortunes – and Fatalism, the universal anaesthetic, will be at hand.
No, it’s now that the nerves are pinging. With Sport Accord, the annual convention of sporting federations, looming up in Denver, and a crucial IOC executive committee meeting in Lausanne rising Alp-like beyond it, those who are being paid to talk the talk for their sports still have everything to lose.
So let the lobbying begin! Let the PR pour!
Down in W14 this week it was the turn of squash to make its case to the media for joining the Olympic movement.
Squash types can be forgiven a few extra-white knuckles given the sport’s experience of four years ago, when an invitation to join the 2012 party was snatched from their hand after less than the required two-thirds majority of IOC members voted to ratify the prospective newcomer.
Only 50 per cent of the votes will be required this time. And squash simply cannot contemplate the idea of hitting the tin once again.
So it fell to former world No.1 Peter Nicol (pictured), now a director of the Professional Squash Association, to articulate the case for inclusion as he stood amid eerily green lighting next to a court erected at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington, where this year’s ATCO Super Series finals have taken place.
altWith his intelligent face, fresh white shirt and heavy glasses, Nicol has more than a hint of Clark Kent about him. As Superman, he won four Commonwealth gold medals and held the world No.1 ranking for 60 months before retiring in 2006. At 35 he is now stretching himself in different directions as he champions the sport’s quest to earn what he clearly regards as the Holy Grail – a place at the Olympics for the first time.
"We very, very nearly made it into the Olympics in London," he said, adding with what I could just discern to be a grin: "I might have stayed playing for a chance of playing in a home Games…no, I couldn’t have. I would have had no chance. It’s a young man’s sport now."
As Nicol observed, squash has been here before. And the arguments in its favour remain persuasive. It’s healthy – one survey maintains top players lose 1,500 calories in an hour. It’s widespread – there are reportedly over 20 million registered players in a spread of 150 countries.
And there are other succulent stats, such as the fact that the top 16 men and women – all of whom are solemnly pledged to compete at the Games should their bid be successful – include 13 nationalities, many of whom would have the chance of making an impression on the Olympic medal table for the first time.
Another point well made – the sport includes several Muslim women among its leading players, including world No.1 Nicol David of Malaysia. The judges will mark you up for that, Peter…
In terms of delivery, Nicol would be well advised to dispense with a written script – particularly in the sub-aqueous conditions that pertained courtside before the lights went up for the first match of the evening.
Scott Garrett, the Squash 2016 bid team manager, made that point that squash has had more time to consider its campaign this time around. "The message has been honed," he added.
Whether squash ends up at the cutting edge, however, is likely to depend upon how efficiently it manages to present itself to IOC members over the next six months.
Meanwhile the World Squash Federation is considering the introduction of more technical wizardry designed to improve the sport as a spectacle, such as tracking devices on rackets, Hawkeye systems such as those that are already operating in cricket and tennis, and special camera angles designed to enhance TV action replays…
Nicol maintains, however, that criticisms of the way the sport comes across on TV no longer have a basis in fact given the innovations of the last decade or so. "It’s more a matter of perception than anything," he said.
Ultimately, he believes the essentially combative nature of the sport will generate the required support for its Olympic ambitions. "You’ve got two competitors in a confined space," he said. "That makes it very, very exciting. It’s all very gladiatorial."
Interesting line of thought that, Peter. Perhaps a few undecided IOC members might yet be won over by a touch of the Colosseums. Forget rackets and a ball, bring your net and trident. And what about a few lions emerging from a trapdoor?
Okay. That’s going a bit far. After all, it’s only half the IOC votes required this time around. So perhaps just the one lion emerging…

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now freelancing and will be writing regularly for insidethegames 



Let's all get behind this great sport and force the authorities
to put it where it should be - in the Olympics. Surely it is more
worthy than some of the sports in there. Synchronised swimming?
By Squash enthusiast

19 March 2009 at 10:21am

Nice piece, well presented argument. Keep it up. Paul
By Paul Hope

19 March 2009 at 20:25pm

Squash is surely a shoe-in, it's who gets the other places that
worries me. ... golf - no thanks, rugby sevens - mickey mouse and
roller sports - what are they?
By Simon Lasher

26 March 2009 at 22:05pm