What should squash clubs do when the governments sports centre closure laws are lifted and they are officially allowed to re-open?
Learning from the past 6 months, clubs have a decision to make when it comes to opening their squash courts to their members once again. The decision is: Do they open their doors at the earliest possible date – or do they choose to remain closed?
It may sound bonkers to some people that a club would choose to remain shut – but many clubs did choose to do so. In the areas with high Covid-19 infection rates, England Squash guidelines only allow solo practice to take place – so only one person is allowed on a squash court at any time. The clubs who have chosen to close with these restrictions in place feel that their members will not be interested to play squash under these ‘solo only’ guidelines. Therefore, with no or very little revenue taken from court bookings throughout the day then it is not financially sensible for the club to open – when the costs of heating the air and water, electricity and staff wages (cleaners and cleaning products, managers to open the doors, groundsmen etc) are accounted for. This is totally understandable.
However, I’m don’t think the decision should be this simple and I don’t think this decision should be made by club committees or a select few club officials without first canvassing the opinion of their members. Like with yesterday’s post in relation to the responsibility our regional squash leagues have to keep us involved, I strongly feel communication is the key if our sport is to come back with healthy participation rates. Clubs should be in regular contact with their members, and not just to tell them what decisions have been made on their behalf, but to actually liaise with them and make decisions together – based on the whole club community.
I think clubs will be pleasantly surprised how many of their members are willing to play ‘solo’ squash, as opposed to not playing at all. Not only will players be desperate to play squash, even if the only option is by themselves – but members genuinely want to help their club. Of course they don’t want their club to struggle financially and possibly be forced into permanent closure – so they will do what they can to help – but this will only happen if they feel valued – and what’s the best way a club can make their members feel valued? …… communicate with them and ask for their opinions!
If the England Squash guidelines only allow ‘solo’ practice to take place – I strongly recommend clubs communicate with their members and suggest a trial period of two weeks – and after two weeks if the courts are not booked for a certain number of hours each day (whatever it takes to justify the costs of opening the club) then they will be forced to close until restrictions allow for ‘partner’ and/or ‘group squash’. And if this does happen, at least they tried to stay open and the members will appreciate this. Hopefully though, the court usage will justify the club staying open – and this is what I think will actually happen. We should never underestimate how much squash players love playing squash! Yes, all players prefer playing with a partner – it satisfies the fitness and social desires we have – but when faced with ‘solo squash’ or ‘no squash’ after a year away from the squash court, I’m sure the majority will choose ‘solo squash’ – especially if it could be the difference between their club surviving this epidemic or their club shutting their doors forever.
Now, let’s look at the Covid-19 restrictions that England Squash have chosen to have in place, from the most restricted tiers to the least. Let’s only look at mixed household restrictions because players lucky enough to be from the same household can do whatever they like in whatever tier. Let’s also ignore one-to-one coaching rules – so we are simply looking at what the squash masses are allowed to do.
1: ‘Solo practice’ only.
2: Partner squash – ‘Sides’ and strict socially distanced routines only between players within ‘squash bubbles’.
3: Partner squash – full play between players within ‘squash bubbles’.
The next phase would be ‘life back to normal’.
No matter the court-cleaning measures in place, the moment two players step onto a squash court together while the Covid-19 virus is in the world, then they are accepting there’s a risk of infection if there are any contaminated surfaces or virus particles in the air. Squash is a sport played in an enclosed environment where we share walls, share a ball, share a door and share the air – so of course there’s a possible risk of infection if either of them, or anyone has been onto the court within the last 48 hours who was positive with the Covid-19 virus. The squash playing community is a tight knit one, traditionally we look out for one another, we always have – it’s one of the unique beauties of our sport. We are in a time where we must put our trust in our fellow club members and believe they would not have entered the club if they were Covid positive – and I do trust my fellow club members and I still feel happy to share the club with them.
I think ‘Sides’ and socially distanced routines is a complete waste of time and should be scrapped. I cannot see what it achieves. Two players are still sharing the same space – they might as well play ‘proper squash’ and save the frustration of not being allowed to play ‘proper squash’. Removing this phase will see a much quicker transition back to squash for everybody – and that is what we are all after. That is what will fill our squash clubs again; have our local and regional leagues back up and running as soon as possible; and save our sport before we lose any more clubs due to permanent closure.
I honestly believe we can make squash thrive again, and even in a year or two, be in a healthier position than we were pre-Covid-19. Having certain human needs taken away during several ‘lockdowns’ has given people a real perspective of what’s important to live a happy and meaningful life. People know they need to exercise more. People have realised their craving for social interaction. I believe people will move away from large gyms and look for alternative ways to exercise to become part of a more intimate society. Squash can satisfy the exercise and social desires – it’s the perfect sport!
However – in order for this to happen we must look after our members and squash communities NOW.
So what I ask is – if you are a squash club committee member please reach out to us – your members – before it’s too late. Communicate with us and we’ll all get through this and be absolutely fine.
By Andy Whipp.