ROAD TO 2024: LOOKBACK ON THE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMESÉvénements 24/10
For a few months, squash has been campaigning to be included in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Today we launch a new series of articles – which will be published every month on the 24th - called “Road to 2024”.
In this first episode, we look back on the Youth Olympic Games.
By Jérôme Elhaïk
Regardless of what happens in the near future, October 2018 will remain an important date for squash. For the first time in its history, it was part of an Olympic event, being a showcase sport at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. It was a great opportunity for squash to demonstrate its assets, as well as an important step in its bid for Paris 2024. We look back into a successful Argentinian campaign.
A POPULAR SUCCESS ...
“The Squash Showcase in Buenos Aires has exceeded all expectations.” We can hear a sense of satisfaction in the voice of Jacques Fontaine. The Frenchman has been at the head of the World Squash Federation (WSF) since 2016, and he's made the olympic bid one of the pillars of his presidency. Over 30,000 people are reported to have attended the showcases, and the location played a part in this success. “The glass court had been set up at the entrance of the Technopolis Park, which we shared with badminton, futsal and table tennis,” said French Squash Federation Jean-Denis Barbet, who also attended the event. “Not having a dedicated site may have been perceived as a disadvantage at first, but it turned out great in terms of visibility.” The people not only attended the showcases, but also got involved: more than 2,000 enthusiastic children coming from the local schools were able to hold a squash racket and hit a squash ball for the very first time. “It is very encouraging for the development of the sport in Argentina, and it was fantastic to see so many smiles on the young schoolchildren's faces,” Fontaine added. Some of these youngsters had the chance to go into the interactive court, developed by German company interactiveSquash in partnership with the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and World Squash Federation. This technology – a key component of the Buenos Aires showcase's success - transforms the court into a playground, for example thanks to reactive displays showing the location of ball impacts on the wall, as well as interactive gaming modules for the children discovering squash. “It's a great tool,” says Barbet, “and we must ensure that a few clubs in France have it in the near future, in order to attract new people to our sport.”
The Youth Olympic Games were a great popular success for squash, especially towards the young locals (Photo credits: World Squash Federation)
… AS WELL AS A POLITICAL ONE
The Buenos Aires showcase was more than a popular success. The YOG are regarded as a testing ground for the IOC, and squash certainly made an impression in Argentina. We saw Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi step onto court and experience the sport first-hand, while the delegation had the opportunity to informally meet with other important officials - such as IOC president Thomas Bach. For Jacques Fontaine, “Maria Toorpakai Wazir's presentation was also a strong moment, and she was warmly applauded by the audience. We are honoured to have such strong voices advocating for inclusion through sport on behalf of the squash family.” Toorpakai Wazir, whose remarkable journey to become a professional athlete saw her disguise herself as a boy in order to train, compete and attend school in defiance of imposed Taliban rule in her home region of Waziristan, Pakistan, serves on the IOC Women in Sport Commission. She spoke at the inaugural Olympism in Action Forum and said it was a “perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of sports and how it can transform individuals and communities for a better world.” Fontaine is also delighted with the collaboration between his Federation and the PSA, while it was their “first major sporting and political event together.” But despite all these positive signals, he's willing to remain “action-oriented. We are sticking to the line and time frame established with Weber Shandwick (the communication agency – very knowledgeable in olympic issues – appointed by the two squash bodies). We know the rules, and are ready to respond to the IOC's requests.” Best of 3, or four 6-minute games like in the Buenos Aires showcase? It's still too early to look into that, but things will start to accelerate over the next few months: the Paris 2024 organising committee should submit a new sports proposal to the IOC in the first half of 2019, and the final decision will be announced after the Tokyo Games, probably in December 2020. After three failed bids, will squash be included in the olympic family? Only time will tell ...
Whether through exchanges with officials from the olympic bodies or Maria Toorpakai Wazir's presentation, squash made some progress in Buenos Aires (Photo credits: World Squash Federation, IOC)
TOUFIK MEKHALFI, THE AMBASSADOR
38 players - 19 girls and 19 boys - from 27 countries had been selected to serve as squash ambassadors at the YOG. Among them, Toufik Mekhalfi will remain in history as the first ever French squash player to have been part of an Olympic event. “The athletes understandably needed a little time to take the measure of the event,” says Jean-Denis Barbet, “but after that they completely embraced their role.” For Toufik, U17 French champion and member of the U19 national squad, “it was a real pleasure to showcase our sport, and to exchange with all those people. I tried to enjoy every minute of this experience, and to be an ambassador for our sport is an honour. I hope I was up to the task, and I'd like to thank the French Federation for giving me this opportunity, as well as the WSF for having set up such a great event. I now need to come back to reality...” Mekhalfi will be in Antibes this weekend, where he'll be one the main contenders at the U19 French Championships. But the 16-year old has his eyes set beyond, and says that “squash deserves to be an olympic sport. I hope that one day we'll all be able to live our dream, and that I'll have the opportunity to win a medal.”
Video courtesy of the World Squash Federation
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