WSF Ambassadors Inspire Armenian
World squash stars Ramy Ashour, the three-time
world champion from Egypt, and Camille Serme, British and US Open
winner and six-time European champion from France, thrilled fans of the
sport in Armenia on the first leg of the 2018 WSF Ambassador
Programme visit to the country's capital Yerevan in the
mountainous Caucasus region between Asia and Europe.
Launched in 2011, the World Squash Federation
international promotional initiative takes two leading squash players,
together with an international coach and referee, into younger squash
nations to inspire and help raise the sport's profile through clinics,
exhibition matches, refereeing and coaching seminars, and media
Armenia, proud to be the first state in the world to
adopt Christianity as its official religion early in the 4th century AD,
formed its squash federation in 2011 with the construction of three
courts - one of which a state-of-the-art all glass showcourt - at the
Grand Sport complex in Yerevan.
Grand Sport, boasting numerous sports facilities
including an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, is part of Grand
Holding - the biggest holding company in Armenia, which was founded in
1994. The company's founder is Mikayel Vardanyan, a keen squash
player and President of the Armenian Squash Federation.
[Mikayel Vardanyan (centre) pictured
above with (L to R) WSF CEO Andrew Shelley, WSF referee Marko
Podgorsek, Grand Sport Deputy Director Haik Buniatyan,
Ramy Ashour, Camille Serme, Armenian Federation Secretary
General Astghik Aghababyan, and WSF coach Ronny Vlassaks]
While Belgian national coach Ronny Vlassaks
conducted coaching workshops with Armenian players, and the Slovenian
international referee Marko Podgorsek explained the finer points
of the rules to budding local referees, Ashour and Serme gave junior and
senior players at the club the experience-of-a-lifetime by playing with
them on court.
"Ramy is so inspiring," said
Levon Harutyunyan, the 15-year-old twice National (senior)
champion from Yerevan after his match with Ashour. "I have watched
him on YouTube and now have been able to study his shots. He is
Mikayel Vardanyan hosted a press conference for the WSF
Ambassadors which attracted widespread media interest, including
Armenia TV, Kentron TV and AR TV. Much of the interest
was in squash's bid to join the Olympic Games programme.
"When we were building the Grand Sport complex and the
squash courts in 2011 only one per cent of Armenians knew what squash
is," Vardanyan told the media. "I myself
regularly play squash as it is very healthy, dynamic and is very good
for mental work.
"Whenever we organise activities, the participants
always give good feedback and more begin to play."
Ashour told the attending media: "Over the years, I
have been to many countries and played in many venues - but I am really
impressed with the facilities you have here at Grand Sport. You could
hold a world championship here!"
After a brief on-court challenge with Ashour, Kentron TV
reporter Aram Manukyan interviewed the Egyptian star (pictured
Pakistani Sajid Khan, recently appointed the
Armenian National Coach (pictured below (in yellow) after Serme
conquered all her junior Armenian opponents), is based at Grand Sport
where he works with several junior and senior players.
"All those involved with squash in Yerevan are delighted
that two legends of squash have come here,"
said Khan. "It's a real tonic for Armenian squash.
"It will change many things in the history of squash
here - it's the first step in pushing the game forward in Armenia.
"My students are so excited - even I am excited!
"We now need to establish a good junior programme here."
The visit was hailed as a great success by the Armenian
Federation: "It's been very helpful having such great champions as
Ramy and Camille with us here. They are our players' heroes," said
Secretary General Astghik Aghababyan.
"The visit helped us to get interest from the media and
we hope that it will inspire more people to play squash.
"Spending time with Ramy and Camille, and playing with
them, has helped our players realise how much hard work and training it
takes to become a top player.
"They also benefitted from the expert coaching and
refereeing workshops provided by Ronny and Marko.
"I hope that we will be able to look forward to one of
the results of this WSF initiative in the future being more courts in
Armenia outside Yerevan," Aghababyan
continued. "At the moment, the only courts we have are in our capital
so it's only our juniors in Yerevan who have the opportunity to play.
"We need to begin to focus on our schools and persuade
them to bring pupils to our courts, so that they can see that squash is
not only a physical and mental sport, but also healthy.
"Hopefully it won't be long before we will be able send
teams to the European Championships, and even the World Championships,
in the near future.
"But overall, your visit has given us more
self-confidence that we can engage with the world of squash,"
Aghababyan concluded. "This has been such a boost for us and our
WSF CEO Andrew Shelley added: "We mount these
visits to inspire national squash communities, but they energise the
Ambassadors too. To join with such an energetic and motivated group of
squash leaders and players has been a great experience for the group as
they gave their time freely in every sense of the word. I have no doubt
that squash in Armenia will flourish in the years to come."
Since 2011, the WSF Ambassador Programme has visited
Latvia, Malawi, Namibia, Panama, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Serbia,
Romania, Croatia, and Dalian and Macau in China. The 2018 team now move
onto the Ukraine capital Kiev.