I’m not quite sure how certain sports get into the Olympics. Well, I’ve got a vague idea. It’s probably all a bit like an episode of Dragons’ Den; you know that programme for entrepreneurs, madcap inventors and Heath Robinson-type eccentrics who try to convince a sombre-faced trinity of sneering, eye-rolling millionaires to part with some dosh and invest in an inflatable widget that removes the seeds from a melon?
I have this vision that Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, just sits there on an ornate throne as cap-in-hand campaigners of those sports striving for inclusion are invited to crawl along the floorboards towards him and whisper on about participation and growth and legacy and yak yak this and blah blah that. And all the while, Bach just lounges there, resting his feet on the back of said representatives, nonchalantly flicking through a magazine and occasionally peering over the pages to deliver a dismissive snort here or a harrumph there. There’s a good chance the process is not like this at all, of course.
By all accounts, squash has been trying to get into the Olympics since those bygone times when Acanthus the Lacedaemonian first wowed the Ancient Greeks by running around in the scuddy during those primitive Games. Interestingly, democracy was formed in the aftermath of a particularly hard-fought diaulos race when scunnered onlookers decided they had seen enough of Acanthus let alone his Lacedaemonian and voted in the loin cloth. Apparently, a naked Acanthus was so outraged he went to the highest powers of the Athenian Parliament and tabled his amendments.
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I’ve always been mystified by the fact that squash isn’t an Olympic pursuit. I’m also convinced that fencing is actually just an argument between two beekeepers but that’s another thing. With the British Squash Championships currently thrashing and smashing away, I thought that was a typically flimsy way of justifying this week’s haverings.
Last year’s Games in Rio featured 28 sports but there was no squash. Well, apart from an unseemly crush involving two Greco-Roman wrestlers trying on ill-fitting lycra. There will be no squash at Tokyo in 2020 either but there will be sport climbing and skateboarding. Perhaps the ba’s burst in terms of Olympic ambitions? Squashy folk have been lobbying for its inclusion for years but it has been constantly overlooked. By my reckoning, it’s now behind shove ha’ penny, carrot whittling, coppicing, tapestry relay, rhythmic sock darning and synchronised shadow puppetry in the Olympic pecking order. Yes, you heard it here first, folks. Come 2032, rhythmic sock darning will be jaw-droppingly huge.
Back in younger, fitter years, when my skin still fitted my body and my legs would perform dynamic, lunging, thrusts of athletic endeavour instead of wincing, shuddering hirples, I loved squash. I was actually pretty decent at it too. Under-13, under-15 and under-17 champion in one weekend? I don’t like to boast but you’re allowed to boast in squash. As in the shot. The boast. Get it? Dearie me. Anyway, tonnes of other folk loved it too. And what was not to like about it? The head-to-head combat, the nip-and-tuck battle to dominate the ‘T’, the squeaky Hi-Tec trainers, those strange wood braces that more seasoned campaigners had clamped over the heads of their Dunlop MaxPly rackets and that odd thing folk would do when they would try and hasten the warming up of the yellow dot ball by vigorously rolling it under their foot as if they were trying to wipe a particularly stubborn and questionable stain from their sole in lush grasses of the local park.
Personally, this scribe always preferred the technique of shoving the ball into the cosy embrace of the oxter which meant you walked on to the court looking like Admiral Nelson in classic pose as you held it in place before flinging your opponent a warm, moist sphere of rubber. If you hadn’t met said opponent before, it made for a rather uncomfortable exchange. The jowl-quivering words “that bloke has just handed me a ba’ from his bloomin’ airm pit,” would prey on their minds for the first six points as you stole a vital psychological march on proceedings. It was a tactical masterstroke.
Squash came with royal approval. As the Queen gave birth to Prince Charles back in 1948, the Duke of Edinburgh wiled away some of the time playing squash with his private secretary. “He looks like a plum pudding,” said the Duke. And that was his observation about the baby Prince not his wheezing secretary after a vigorous best of five.
Goodness knows what His Royal Highness makes of squash’s on-going Olympic snub. Like those involved in the sport, it’s probably a case of “we are not amused.”
Now, what’s that under my oxter?