Reaction to THAT ARTICLE
in The Times ...

Squash World in uproar
over Times Article
Squash Players, administrators, referees and coaches over the UK were shocked today to see an article in The Times on Fri 3rd October (British Open quarter-final day), headed A sport dying a sad, lonely death.

The article, by table-tennis player Matthew Syed, presents a wholly negative view of the state of the game, starting with: "NOTHING symbolises the seemingly terminal decline of squash more poignantly than the British Open taking place in Nottingham this week".

After several more paragraphs of doom and gloom it concludes with: "Unfortunately, it is not going to happen. Which is the final injustice for a sport hurtling towards oblivion."

Squash Player absolutely disagrees with the views presented in the article, and is sure that some of our readers will have something to say about it, so we invite you to post your views on Points of View, and send a message to the sports editor of The Times.

Response from British Open promoters,
John Nimick & John Beddington

October 6, 2003 

David Chappell, Sports Editor, The Times.

Dear Mr. Chappell,

Your recent articles compiled on a page titled Squash British Open point out the very reasons that squash is going to be a successful sport in the coming years.  First, as Mr. Syed points out in his descriptive but damaging article, the arrival of a new generation of portable glass courts will enable thousands of spectators to "delight in the endlessly shifting geometry (of the sport)."  Furthermore the author acknowledges that the sport creates remarkable athletes such as the "estimable" World #1 Peter Nicol.

Second, Ms. Jennai Cox has credited the entire domestic squash population with being fit.  In a world re-focusing on the long term social and personal benefits of healthy lifestyle, squash will be the sport of choice for those busy individuals who want a bit of fun and challenge to their exercise regime.  But, as she reports, please don't try it unless you are interested in getting in shape. 

As we believe that these qualities offer a compelling opportunity, we recently acquired the rights to promote the British Open.  We are very much aware of the challenges facing minor sports such as squash and that the number of regular squash players has declined over time.  However, with a player base of over a million, the number of people currently interested in the sport is substantial. 

Television will most certainly continue to be an important focus as we seek to share with viewers the "awe" generated by the sport's "dynamic bodies".  It is our opinion that the brand of professional squash on offer today is more athletically explosive and compelling than any other racket sport.

If Mr. Syed and his photographer had chosen to join us for the semi-finals or finals this past weekend in Nottingham, instead of turning up for the first afternoon session of portable court play (our least attended session), they may have had a startlingly different impression of the interest in the Championships.  The hall was full, the competition was enthralling and the sport was very much alive.


John Beddington & John Nimick
British Open Squash Championships Co-Chairmen



What hope has participant sport in Britain, particularly in the minor sports, when The Times (sometimes referred to as 'The Thunderer') launches a careless, inaccurate, one-sided attack on one of them? Squash has issues and problems that can stand serious examination and criticism but Matthew Syed's knocking piece in The Times on Friday October 3 does not fall into this category.

It is inaccurate and damages the sport, but a continuation of this approach by The Times will damage all participant sport in Britain. Another casualty will be The Times sports coverage itself. It will no longer be regarded as accurate or objective or in support of sport as played by sportsmen day in and day out.

Few sports could stand the negative approach taken in this article - all would find it destructive. It is a pity that the once highly regarded Times Sports coverage has become superficial and celebrity based but even more so that it cannot influence British sport in a positive way.

I am afraid we will no longer be able to recommend it as an authoritative source of squash news and comment, and will call upon squash participants to read a alternative quality paper.

Ian Mckenzie
Publisher of the sport's international magazine,
The Squash Player

Response from England Squash

A letter from England Squash Chairman Jackie Robinson and Chief Executive Nick Rider to David Chappell, Sports Editor of The Times:

3 October 2003
Dear Mr Chappell

Matthew Syed is just plain wrong. His outrageous attack on a sport loved by millions is the worst kind of sloppy journalism - made even worse by the fact that he purports to be a sportsman himself.

The sport has 15 million participants worldwide and England Squash affiliated clubs have about 100,000 members. We also have the men's world No1, the men's world junior champion, five of the world's top 20 men and eight of the top 15 world-ranked women.

Ask the LTA about world rankings of British players and you'll get a very different response. And television for Olympic sports? Without stooping to the level with which Syed clearly feels at home, I haven't noticed that Olympic status has transformed the media and commercial fortunes of table tennis in this country. The truth is that all sports, barring the big commercial and televised ones, have to deal with the same issues of media, and in particular television, access. Even then, we still managed to get prime time exposure on Blue Peter two weeks ago for our Mini Squash initiative with Peter Nicol, the best player in the world. We also have a very supportive squash media, but they too face the daily struggle for column inches.

The financial difficulties of England Squash and uncertainty in the past over the British Open are both old news. He also makes a crucial error by failing to understand the causal relationship between the two events. It was only the withdrawal and subsequent collapse of the Open's sponsor that put both the governing body in the unenviable position in which it found itself and the Open faced with a uncertain future. But all of this happened two years ago.

The strategy for the revival of the British Open, in partnership with John Beddington and John Nimick, is clear and sound. Nimick and Beddington are among the most knowledgeable and successful of promoters and their commitment to the event in a difficult economic climate is a tribute to their love of the sport, their professional skill and dedication, and the belief that the sport is alive and kicking and has a future. No one doubts the hard work ahead needed to put the Open back at the pinnacle of world squash, but the full houses we will see in Nottingham this weekend are a damn good start.

Syed should also know, from his long involvement with table tennis, that the job of the national governing body is a very varied and exciting one, not just about the promotion and management of one event, however important it is. In the British Junior Open, we run the biggest event for juniors in the world. His dismissal of initiatives such as Mini Squash is ignorant and completely without foundation. Had he bothered, he could have discovered that England Squash is working this year with 40 Schools Sports Partnerships, including 1,000 primary schools across the country to create opportunities for about 15,000 young people to take up the sport for the first time.

The partnership we have with Manchester City Council, here at the National Squash Centre, is unique. Our pioneering work in child protection has been adopted by every sport in the land.

So on its knees? Unsuccessful? We don't think so. And if Syed had bothered to do his job properly, neither would he.

Jackie Robinson
Chairman, England Squash
Nick Rider
Chief Executive, England Squash

Response from Peter Nicol

Dear Mr Chappell

Today's article in The Times has upset me greatly.  Squash is my life and I am insulted that you should inaccurately accuse it of being 'a sport dying a sad, lonely death.'

I am amazed that a fellow athlete would write such an unbalanced attack on the sport on quarter-finals day of such a major squash event in this country.

Matthew seems to be talking about an era of squash which is long gone.

I am saddened that he didn't take the opportunity to talk to me before writing it - as I could have reminded him of previous conversations we'd had, in which I'd pointed out some of the exciting initiatives happening around the world, for instance in the USA where squash is growing rapidly, and where there is a flourishing series of events on the professional circuit and impressive grassroots initiatives to introduce new blood into the sport.

Here in England, our governing body is really working hard on the development side of things, and now has a tremendous junior programme in clubs around the country, linked with local schools.  I have been really impressed with their development team who are doing a fantastic job - the new Mini Squash initiative, which I thoroughly enjoyed launching on 'Blue Peter' last week, is a brilliant new concept.

Whilst we would love to be in the Olympic Games, the sport would thrive quite happily without it.

And on the subject of the British Open, the fact that a professional company that has run highly successful events in both the UK and the USA wanted to take it on speaks volumes.  They're clearly aiming to run a successful and profitable event, otherwise why would they bother?

I myself recently formed a company Eventis which launched the Prince English Open in Sheffield in August and plans to create a flourishing professional European squash circuit in the near future.  As the world's number one squash player for many years, I would hardly waste my time on such a project if I didn't think it would be successful in every way.

Peter Nicol
England & World No1

Response from Paul Walters, Dunlop

Dear Mr Chappell

Squash 'dying a sad, lonely death'? I think not.

As manufacturers of the sport's most widely-used ball, Dunlop is in a better position than most to know the health of squash worldwide. We have something like a 90% market share and have seen sales rise by 10% year-on-year over the past few years.

What better barometer could there be for the state of the sport's health?

In conjunction with the sport's main international governing bodies, we launched a new series of squash balls about five years ago - to help stimulate further participation in the sport. The above sales are a reflection of the success of this initiative.

Furthermore, we have experienced 25% growth in our racket sales each year for the past five years - and, as a result, have moved advertising and promotion budgets from other sports into squash to fuel this growth.

The brand is also investing more and more in its players in recognition of the increasing profile these athletes generate. Whilst there is a long way to go in terms of television exposure, the benefits from print and website coverage fully justifies the outlay.

Finally, I can think of no stronger way of demonstrating my belief in the strength of the sport than to advise you that I am leaving Dunlop at the end of the year to set up a marketing company which will handle all aspects of squash player and event management.

Clearly, if the views of Matthew Syed are to be believed, I am embarking on a suicidal mission.

However, after six years developing Dunlop as the pre-eminent force in squash, I am confident that my new venture will not only be successful but will help create a new generation of players and enthusiasts for the sport.

Yours sincerely

Paul Walters
International Squash Marketing Manager, Dunlop

The Times published part of Peter Nicol's letter, plus 3 others, on Thu 9th, buried away in a supplement and surrounded by Rio Ferdinand pieces ...


Malcolm Willstrop responds

It is hard to understand what was behind Matthew Syed's and The Times' disgracefuly inaccurate and ill-timed article on the game of squash last Friday.

Whether Syed was trying to carve out a career in journalism by being sensational or whether The Times needed to bolster readership with mindless controversy would be interesting to know.

In the event Syed, a professional table tennis player who has a world ranking of over 100 and who plays a tediously defensive game, thought fit to criticise the sport of such wonderful champions as Peter Nicol and Sarah Fitz-Gerald, to say little of the great names of the past  - Jahangir Khan, Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt, all of who are still actively involved in the game.

The idea that the game is 'heading for oblivion' is clearly so ridiculous and proves that Syed is no advertisement for a Cambridge education. Nor is his dishonest, non-existent research.

He was in the Albert Hall for ten minutes, spoke to nobody despite the fact that players, coaches and administrators were all accessible. Clearly he did not want to know the truth.

As someone who has spent a lifetime in the game - I have coached rugby and cricket extensively when I was a schoolteacher - a sport which demands athleticism of the highest order, racket skills and a strong mind is never heading for oblivion.

That it is watchable and entertaining was amply shown at the Albert Hall, Nottingham, where Friday evening was almost full and Saturday and Sunday were sold out.

My advice to Syed would be to find another career, where his dishonesty will bring him greater rewards, and my advice to The Times is to serve sport better by reporting squash's many successes rather than support distortion and inaccuracy.

An apology from Syed and The Times would not go amiss.

Malcolm Willstrop


The world of squash was in uproar today as The Times did a tabloid-style hatchet job on the game. Under the headline 'A sport dying a sad, lonely death' almost an entire page was devoted to an article written by table tennis player Matthew Syed, who described the British Open as teetering on the brink of extinction.

He wrote in harsh, detrimental terms of the game's image, discussed problems with TV coverage that have been addressed successfully in recent years, and, ridiculously,  claimed that the game had been blocked from the Olympic Games because the sport was not played in enough countries!

Syed has clearly been talking to a well-connected individual in squash who has openly and honestly discussed several issues within the sport. What Syed has done is to ignore all the positive facets of those discussions (I know because I have spoken to the person involved) and selectively chosen to produce a list of criticisms.

Some of his statements are true.  But many come across as ill-informed nonsense. Take the TV issue, for example. Syed obviously has no knowledge of the fact that squash has not only mastered the production problems that have hampered the sport in the past, but has managed to convince Sky TV, among others, to carry extended live coverage of major events.

That there is no such coverage this year is down to budgetary problems, and nothing to do with the quality of the programming.
The Times is known as The Thunderer. This nonsensical piece of garbage makes it sound more like The Blunderer.

Response from the PSA

The Sports Editor
The Times

Dear Sir,

I write in connection with an article in today's Times written by Mr Matthew Syed entitled "A sport dying a sad, lonely death."

I was surprised and concerned with the content of the article.

I will not comment on the national issue surrounding the piece, but would like to reply to the areas that have an international perspective.

The Professional Squash Association (our game's ATP if you like, representing the world professional male squash players) now provides an international satellite broadcast distribution of our major events to over 300million viewers globally.

The PSA roster of such events include the Tournament of Champions in New York, the Canadian Open, the Qatar Classic, the PSA Masters and the Hong Kong Open.

I agree that televising squash has been and remains a serious challenge in translating the live action of our game to the monitor for viewers to appreciate.

Our ongoing development, however, has now over the past several years reached a level where our international broadcast partners seek more of our product, not less. Televised squash has a long way to go to catch up with tennis. But look how long it took for tennis, for instance, to reach the televisible levels it now enjoys.

Remember, it was not long ago that the casual viewer could not even see a visible ball on the screen. Our continual efforts now produce a programme which clearly shows the flight of the squash ball on your television screen.

Mr Syed is right to refer to the innovations that have, in a measured manner, been introduced to our sport, but wrong to refer to these changes as "corrective plastic surgery".

The arrival of the all glass portable court was a landmark moment which transformed our sport by taking top competition out of traditional clubs and presenting it to potentially larger audience numbers in charismatic settings.

I have asked photographer Stephen Line to forward to you photographs of such settings with full audiences from PSA events around the world. I invite you to place these in your newspaper to redress the picture taken by Mr Syed, early mid afternoon yesterday I believe, (thus at the beginning of the event), but whilst also deciding to avoid capturing the full back wall section of spectators in his picture.

The lower 17 inch tin, and the point a rally scoring, were also reforms presented by PSA several years ago to increase the commercial appeal of top professional play.

I can say, as an ex professional myself, that top flight squash now is almost unrecognisable to the spectacle of marathon matches played in the times of Messrs. Hunt and Barrington. Detracting nothing from the impressive physical and technical performances of those previous masters, this generation of professionals play a game that incorporates as much attacking play in the front of the court as the back.

In short, it is far more exciting to watch squash now as a spectator event. And this in most part is down to the above reforms, including PAR which simplifies the understanding of our scoring system and keeps continuous momentum to the matches.

But unlike other professional sports, we have resisted the temptation to "tinker" with our rules and regulations, with the positive effects of PSA's above changes now filtering through.  No other reforms have been introduced.

To conclude, given the challenging conditions faced by the majority of the world's commercial sports, it remains my view that professional squash is well placed internationally to build on the core strengths and values of our game.

Matches are shorter, more dynamic and exciting to watch; the players represent role models of health and fitness for any youngsters to aspire to, and the game is played in more countries than the majority of other sports.

Sincerely yours,

Gawain Briars
Executive Director, PSA.

Response from the WSF

Dear Matthew

I would like to correct your statement in today's Times regarding Squash and the Olympic Games.

Neither the IOC President, nor his Sports Director, has stated that not enough countries play Squash. Squash is played in 150 countries worldwide and 122 of them are Members of the World Squash Federation. That is more, for example, than the national membership of nine of the twenty eight sports on the Summer Olympic Programme.

Dr. Rogge enjoyed his exposure to Squash at the Comonwealth Games and commented favourably on the fact that eight of the top ten men and women in the world were competing.

As for the rest of your article I will refrain from comment, except to say that if your chosen path to journalistic success is through such nihilistic and destructive attacks you do no service to sport as a whole.


Ted Wallbutton
World Squash Federation

From the University of Surrey
Dear Editor,
While welcoming a number of articles on squash in your paper on Friday 3rd October, I was saddened to see most of them being so destructively and mischievously negative.  The sport has gone through some difficult periods, that is certainly true. I think it is much more appropriate to look at now and the likely future than bemoan the days of glory past. It has been a national pastime to do that for far too long in Football and Cricket and it is simply not helpful.
Squash is as attractive to young people now as it was at the height of its popularity in the 1970's. It has been extremely well received by the 10,000 local children we, at the University of Surrey, have directly introduced to it over the last five years. Many of them have not gone on to play seriously or regularly, but all will be aware that there are limitations to the truth of Jennai Cox discouraging people from playing such an active sport.
Squash was able to take advantage of the increase in popularity during the '70's largely because of massive historic support given to this, and other, sports from the university sector. Cricket and Ruby clubs encouraged the growth by building courts. Too often they were built as a means only of generating income and, badly run, they have since disappeared. The university sector is once again looking at what our future role could be in a resurgence, and we have some exciting plans and some experienced partners to deliver them.
The University of Surrey have viewed Squash differently. It is a sport that can fit with very active life-styles of young people. It can interface well with serious academic study and is an ideal partner sport for the government's recently announced Talented Athlete Support Scheme initiative.  We are planning to improve our facilities for Squash, because we are unable to meet the current demand for use.  The thirteen competitive teams that play from our centre are testament to that.  Like some other notable providers in Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere, we have been working with England Squash to enable the sport to expand.

I agree with Matthew Syed and Adrian Drummond to the extent that there are still some things that need sorting out with the sport and its presentation. I hope they can bring themselves to do this constructively for the future, or all of us working with sports that appear not to get the benefits, coverage and patronage of Football and Cricket, may as well hang up our collective boots! 

Yours sincerely,,

Barry Hitchcock
(Sports Director, University of Surrey)