Visit A 'Dream Come True' For Ukraine Squash
The WSF Ambassador Programme visit to Ukraine
was a 'dream come true' for squash in the country said the Ukrainian
Squash Federation President Anastasiia Netrebchuk at the end of an
action-packed two-day series of events in the capital Kiev led by
Egypt's three-time world champion Ramy Ashour and France's
British and US Open champion Camille Serme.
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
Ukrainian players, junior and senior, lined up to play
Ashour and Serme at the city's Grand Prix club - while Belgian
national coach Ronny Vlassaks enthused coaches from the length
and breadth of Ukraine and Belarus on the art of coaching, and Slovenian
international referee Marko Podgorsek conducted two well-attended
workshops to explain the finer points of refereeing in squash.
It was standing room only at a packed press conference
at Grand Prix, where Ukraine Sports Committee President Illia
Shevlyak told the media representatives: "I will do everything I can
to support squash in Ukraine.
"Squash and the Olympics is a perfect fit - I think
squash will be in Paris," added Shevlyak, who oversees the 47
non-Olympic sports in Ukraine. "It's a very dynamic sport.
"The Ukrainian Squash Federation, which was only
established six years ago, is a brilliant example of what can be done to
promote a sport here.
"I am so happy to see so many journalists here,
When asked about the sport's inclusion in the programme
for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France's six-time European
champion Camille Serme said: "If we make it, I hope I will be
able to participate - I'll only be 35!"
Former world number one Ashour, who played a major part
in the 2020 campaign, said: "I'd be very happy if we made it - and would
be proud to tell my kids that I helped it happen!"
When asked about his coaching presentations, Vlassaks
(pictured above in action) told the media: "I had 25 coaches in my
workshop - which is fantastic!
"You will definitely have a world champion in the future
- but first you've got to find him or her, then you've got to help them
Squash in Ukraine can trace its roots back to 2000 when
Anastasiia Netrebchuk and Semen Lazutenkou both played
squash on the country's sole court at Kiev Sports Club. So enthusiastic
was property developer Lazutenkou after a visit to Amsterdam in 2008 to
support Ukraine's first appearance in the European Team Championships
that he decided to build the four-court Grand Prix club.
[Pictured above: Grand Prix owner Semen Lazutenkou
(seated) with (L to R) by Ukrainian Squash Federation Executive Director
Alena Ogonesān; USF Vice President Maksim Urakin;
Camille Serme; Anastasiia Netrebchuk; Andrew Shelley;
and Ramy Ashour]
"Last year was a highlight for Ukrainian squash as we
competed for the first time in the World Games in Poland," said
Netrebchuk, now the federation's President. "And now this year our top
junior player Nadiia Usenko has been selected as a SquashFORWARD
ambassador by the WSF.
"And to top it all, we now have this Ambassador
Programme visit. It's a dream come true for us," said Netrebchuk. "It's
big step towards developing squash in our country.
"We already have courts in other cities but we need to
build even more facilities around the country - not just in Kiev. We
want to bring on our juniors and compete in more international events,
not only all the European championships including U15, U17 and U19
categories, but also world championships.
"The current success of players like Nadiia Usenko
and 17-year-old Alina Bushma, will give other juniors here a
[Pictured above: Serme & Ashour with (L to R) Nadiia
Usenko, Alina Bushma and Kostiantyn Rybalchenko, head
of the USF Coaching Committee]
Usenko is Ukraine's most successful junior. Currently
ranked No.2 in the European U19 rankings, she moves to the USA later
this year autumn to start studying at Trinity College in Connecticut.
"I started playing tennis at the age of six but when I
saw my parents come home at weekends with trophies for their squash
success, I decided to give it a try," said the 18-year-old from Kiev.
"For a time I played both sports, but when I decided I wanted to be a
professional athlete, I went for squash.
"I am so happy to be a SquashFORWARD ambassador."
Later, a farewell reception for the team was attended by
Yaroslav Madriy, State Coach of the Sports Ministry, who said:
"Squash has really come on in this country in the last few years.
"This Ambassador Programme has been a very good
initiative for the sport here. But what makes it so special is that your
top athletes are not just visiting us but also giving our players the
chance to be with them on court."
Serme was delighted with her maiden appearance as a WSF
Ambassador: "It was an honour to be chosen, for me and for French
Squash, and to be here with Ramy made it extra special - he's such a
"It was my first visit to both countries. People have
been so welcoming, it was great to see so many adults and kids happy
that we were here - that was good.
"I have seen Nadiia (Usenko) improve a lot over recent
years and I think she could become a top player."
With his impressions of the Ambassador Programme
initiative, Ashour added: "It's very healthy for the sport, going around
the world and having this kind of coverage and being on TV in different
countries and different cultures - showing the world what we have got
and how cool the sport is. The more we do these things and get the word
out there, the more people around the world will understand us.
"I've never been to Ukraine or Armenia before so that
made it even more special for me. I like to know where squash is in
every nation and every culture - I want to be more aware of these kinds
of things. I think the WSF is doing a great job promoting the sport by
getting us there and pursuing the Olympic dream.
"It's really been a delight and pleasure to meet so many
enthusiastic people. I am very humbled and very grateful to be part of
this - it's been amazing."
Vlassaks, who was welcomed back with open arms having
presented the first coaching course in Ukraine nine years ago, said:
"Things have developed well over the past nine years. When I first came
here there was nothing in terms of coaching, or even players. They've
done a good job since then.
"Many years ago it was an elite sport here, but now you
have clubs which you can just go in and play.
"It surprised me quite a lot just how many junior
players we saw here. That's a good sign and a few will come through, for
Marko Podgorsek (pictured above) was also pleased with
the interest in his workshop: "There were 15 referees on my course, not
only from Ukraine but also from Russia and Belarus.
"Refereeing is better organised here than in many
countries, mainly thanks to Robert Wrobel, a Russian who has helped
translate the rules into the language of various countries including
Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Latvia.
"It was good to be able to add to their basic knowledge
of the rules with an insight into where squash refereeing is going and
to know what to look out for."
WSF Chief Executive Andrew Shelley summed up the
leadership of Ukraine Squash and their community in general at the media
conference, saying: "You have a strong tradition of boxing in Ukraine -
we know the career of the Klitschko brothers, of course - and to borrow
a phrase from that sport, Ukrainian Squash definitely punches above its
"You have great squash leadership and a really vibrant
community spread across the country. You are achieving international
success now too - including new SquashFORWARD member Nadiia Usenko,
a top junior who will help shape the future of our sport.
"Squash in Ukraine is in good hands and flourishing, we
Since 2011, the WSF Ambassador Programme has visited
Latvia, Malawi, Namibia, Panama, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Serbia,
Romania, Croatia, Dalian and Macau in China and last week Armenia.
Vlassaks image courtesy of Lara Morgan