Pontefract’s world number one James Willstrop gives the inside track on the competitive world of sport.
The British Open Squash Championships, despite being the most prestigious squash event of the past half century, has not had a strong run over the last decade.
We often label the event “the Wimbledon of Squash”, but it is safe to say that squash is a little way off yet from enjoying the sort of constancy and dependability that the Wimbledon institution seems to have found.
Like all great sporting events, Wimbledon is staged at the same time every year, enjoys across-the-board television coverage and ever-increasing prize money.
It is immovable, which is very important; all sports fans become, as the years go by, accustomed to Wimbledon fortnight, knowing when and where it will be and how it will look.
The British Open still retains its prestige, certainly within squash, but has been staged inconsistently over the last 15 years.
There have been gap years, changes of venue and different promoters.
For some reason – and this contravenes the general trend on the PSA tour which seems to be relatively healthy (financially speaking) – the event has not appealed to promoters and sponsors have been difficult to find.
It is a catch-22 situation: without the sponsors and promoters, how can we even think about achieving constancy in terms of the venue or time of year that the event is held?
However, with press coverage and attention seemingly riding a wave at the moment, and with squash going through a strong period (despite double dip recessions) a negative article here and now would be unnecessary.
Dr Assem Allam, an Egyptian businessman, recently pledged a three-year fund injection and makeover for the British Open, the first round of which began yesterday at the iconic O2 Arena in London.
for the next two years, the event is to be held in Dr Allam’s adopted home of Hull, which would be another new venue, fresh ground for squash and exciting in view of Yorkshire players’ presence at the top of the world rankings.
The most important thing is that the tournament has a buffer for at least three years from which it is hoped it may now grow.
I arrived in London at the weekend and having seen the 02 venue, it is with great anticipation that I look ahead to the week.
The top four men’s seeds in this year’s event are myself, Gregory Gaultier, Nick Matthew and Ramy Ashour.
As always though in squash, the standard is so high that hard matches begin on day one.
In the women’s event, Harrogate’s Jenny Duncalf leads the effort to break Nicol David’s strong record at the event.