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Nicol David, a Goliath of squash, vows to rekindle love affair with Scotland

Nicol David's status within the sporting world was emphasised by her selection among the six competitors invited to carry the Commonwealth Games Federation's flag at the opening ceremony in Celtic Park last month.

Nicol David plays her way to victory over England's Laura Massaro to claim Commonwealth gold at Scotstoun, where an impressive facility has now been taken down. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Nicol David plays her way to victory over England's Laura Massaro to claim Commonwealth gold at Scotstoun, where an impressive facility has now been taken down. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The 30-year-old Malaysian is, quite simply, one of the greatest athletes in sport; her presence in Glasgow was among the examples its organisers can cite when asserting that some of what was on show at the Commonwealth Games was genuinely world class.

The visit was the continuation of a long-term relationship with Scotland that began when, as a pre-teen, she made her first journey beyond her home continent.

"I came to Edinburgh at age 11 for the Scottish Junior Open and I really enjoyed my time experiencing the Scottish culture," said the winner of SJO titles at under-13, under-15 (twice) and under-17 level.

It is perhaps something of an indictment of that Scottish sporting culture, however, that someone who has achieved so much in her sport remains relatively unrecognised in this part of the world. Yet, David seems in no way perturbed by that, her latest visit having taken her relationship with Scotland to a new level.

"The Glasgow Commonwealth Games were amazing for me with my gold-medal win and carrying the CGF flag representing Asia during the opening ceremony," she said. "Also, Glasgow added a lot more aspects overall with the facilities for athletes, spectators and media coverage that created such a hype throughout our time there."

It was an event she had targeted as she sought to re-assert herself at the top of her sport after she suffered a surprise defeat in the semi-finals of last year's World Open, which meant that she failed to win the biggest annual event in the sport for only the second time since 2005.

"The Commonwealth Games is the biggest multi-sport Games to be part of, as a squash player, because squash is not an Olympic sport," David pointed out. "Winning a gold medal here is the pinnacle for us, having the top squash players originating from Commonwealth countries and being among other top athletes in their field of sport throughout the Commonwealth."

Those observations raise a major bone of contention for a sport that has every right to believe it should be part of the Olympics, since the athleticism and skill required seem much more in keeping with the movement's aims and aspirations than many of those deemed worthy.

Having played her part in the latest abortive bid, David is in no doubt about the importance of what is an on-going campaign which, she believes, has been beneficial. Indeed, she believes that the Commonwealth Games provided it with renewed impetus.

"The squash campaign for last year's bid was really well put together and made a huge impact for our sport throughout the campaigning process," she said.

"I was happy to be part of the campaign and presentation to the IOC [International Olympic Committee] executive board as it was such an honour to represent squash with the World Squash Federation team expressing our passion for the sport we love.

"Even though we missed out last year, hopefully the wonderful display of squash in Glasgow will give the IOC a better perspective of the quality and value that squash can bring to the Olympics.

"Let's hope the discussions within the IOC committee and with the new IOC president [Thomas Bach] may bring some changes for the better of squash, with inclusion into the Olympic Games in future."

David is acutely aware of both the importance of sport and her own capacity to be an evangelist for it.

"It has been very fulfilling knowing that through squash and my success I am able to encourage more young women to be involved in sport," she said.

"If I can contribute in some way to girls by giving them something to believe in while playing sport then I will be truly happy."

That being the case the enthusiasm of this world-class role model for playing in Scotland, which has been reinforced by her latest visit, must be seen as having additional potential benefit at a time when encouraging girls and young women to take up sport is seen as a major priority.

David's reaction to the welcome from Scottish audiences, but also the news that a superb and highly-costly facility at Scotstoun was put in place only for a single event, reflects both the excitement and disappointment that has been experienced by domestic squash enthusiasts.

"This is probably one of the most impressive set-ups I have been to and played on, especially at a Commonwealth Games . . . getting the crowds filling up the stadium from the first day until the end was incredible," she said."It is unfortunate that it is only temporary but I am sure that this can be a model to be replicated around the world and perhaps another facility in Scotland too."

It is understood the buzz created by the Games tournament was such, however, that serious consideration is being given to bringing further events to Glasgow in particular.

John Dunlop, the chief executive of ­Scottish Squash and Racketball, expressed confidence that the sport can respond to the interest that has been generated. "The reaction to squash at the Games has been all positive. The people of Glasgow and the presentation were world class," he said. "The sport has made a lot of new friends and maybe opened more than a few eyes to the potential for further squash events in Glasgow.

"While the 2014 show court and its building were all too temporary, we are already working on a completely novel way to bring world-class squash events to Glasgow which we believe will add significant value to the city."

If so, the world's greatest player has pledged that she will be back. "I will definitely come back to Scotland to compete again and I am hoping after the Games that there will be more interest in hosting big squash tournaments here soon," said David.

If there is any truth in the claims of politicians regarding "legacy", that is surely an offer that is too good to contemplate refusing.

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