The PSA is a wonderful organisation, incomparable to our other, failing governing bodies in squash. It’s organised and uber-professional in delivering its product. We’re seeing a rise year on year in the number of tournaments, the number of big events and therefore increases in overall prize money – and this seems like it can only continue to grow even more rapidly over the next decade, with the exciting news which emerged last week – the major investment from US billionaire businessman Mark Walter (owner of Baseball’s LA Dodgers and co-owner of Chelsea FC).
PSA Squash TV is an absolute triumph and has admirers from many other sports trying to emulate the broadcasting website. The quality of video, commentary, advertising and media are all top notch, and are constantly improving too.
The quality and volume of the PSA World Tour members increases every year. The standard of the squash being played by the men and women is awesome, and it filters a long way down. It all seems pretty perfect. But… there is one major issue threatening to hold back, not just the organisation, but the sport.
This is the change of the tournament divisor used to calculate the World Rankings. I believe if this isn’t addressed soon, it could have fairly severe consequences. Most players ranked outside the top 30 in the world will have already been negatively affected, it’s just not been mentioned outside of the inner circles.
What is the ‘divisor’?
Ranking points are awarded to players on the PSA World Tour depending on which round they reach, the draw size and the size of the tournament. Who you beat is irrelevant for your ranking. The total number of points earned over the last 52 weeks has a ‘divisor’ applied to only use the individuals highest scoring events. In the past this divisor was then used to create an average score per tournament played. Total points (from highest scoring selected events) divided by the divisor.
Before Covid the average had always been calculated using the following method: A divisor is selected based on the number of tournaments played during the 52 weeks. The minimum divisor is 10. If a player has played more events than their divisor, the lowest scoring event(s) will be dropped. Divisor calculations were: 1-13 Events played – Divisor 10, 14-15 played – Divisor 11, 16-17 played – Divisor 12, 18-19 played – Divisor 13, 20-21 played – Divisor 14, 22-23 played – Divisor 15.
So, for example, if a player had played 13 events, their top 10 scoring events (in terms of PSA World Tour points won) will be used and divided by 10, with the 3 lowest scoring tournament points ignored. A player who played in 17 events, will have their top 12 scoring tournaments divided by 12, and the 5 lowest scoring tournaments ignored. You get the idea…!
Since October 2020, after the Covid pandemic when the PSA squash generally restarted, the increasing divisor method was removed and replaced with a one divisor system only – which was 10 for men and 9 for women, irrelevant of the number of events played (still with lowest scoring events ignored if played more than 10 for men and 9 for women). They also do not bother dividing by the divisor to give an ‘average’ anymore. It’s the total points from the best scoring 9 or 10 events. This helped after the Covid lay-off and levelled the playing field for players of all nationalities, as different countries had different rules during the pandemic. New Zealand for example, had many PSA events which only New Zealand players could play in, because this was allowed by their government, whereas squash in the UK simply stopped for a much longer period with no tournaments, and therefore no PSA points able to be won. So a discrepancy was formed in the rankings as most players could not add to their points tally, while a handful could. The removing of the divisor made sense at the time, and to continue until the tour had been up and running with all members available to play unrestricted anywhere in the World for at least 18 months.
This ranking adjustment period is now well and truly over as life has been ‘back to normal’ for a few years now, yet the divisor still remains stuck at 10 (or 9). You may think ‘what’s the problem?’. It rewards people who play more events because they have more chances to clock-up 10 good events, and this is also good for the tour because it encourages more people to play more events. This puts more players in local clubs who have gone to the effort of hosting an event, meaning even more clubs will want to host an event, putting more money into the sport through ticket sales and inspiring more people to play as they have more opportunities to get up close and personal to top players. More squash players playing more events around the world can also bolster local economies etc etc etc. Sounds good.
However, more players playing more events has a very big problem for different ranking groups. In the old divisor system, a player had to think long and hard about entering an extra event which would make his or her divisor go up, because if for any reason they received less points than their current average, the extra tournament would make their ranking go down. Earning less points could be because they lost in an earlier round than they wanted, or they played a smaller event which carries less PSA points per round than they normally would play.
At the moment we have a situation where there is no reason not to play many more events than in the past because the divisor doesn’t increase. This has led to tournaments getting stronger in terms of standard of players entering (according to ranking). Great for the tournament, but not great for the players. The PSA Tour has many levels of tournament, starting with the ‘Challenger Tour’ (5, 10, 20 30), then up to The World Tour (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) and culminating with The World Open. Each increasing tournament level carries more prize money, and therefore more PSA points on offer (PSA points are almost proportionally linked to prize money). With the old system you would not get a World Top 20 player playing a Challenger Tour event, not even the biggest of them, the Challenger 30. This is because the average of a top 20 player would be higher than the points on offer for winning the event, let alone if they lost in an earlier round, so playing the event could and probably would have a detrimental effect to the players’ World ranking. So even though the prize money for winning the Challenger 30 event would be tempting (at around $5500), their ranking would be more important.
I’m sure you can see the issue. There is now nothing to stop World No.1, Ali Farag playing every event if he wanted to. He could collect the prize money and give himself top-up ‘pay days’ left, right and centre. Obviously, Ali is a sensible, classy guy and doesn’t do this as he needs to manage his schedule, but he could; therefore taking the points away from players who really need to them in order to improve their ranking, when Ali wouldn’t even use the points, so essentially these vital ranking points go completely to waste.
This system however, could be used to benefit a new tournament. Example (and I’m not suggesting it has happened), a new Challenger 5 Tournament is happening for the first time ever in a village in Colombia so the organiser asks If Miguel Rodriguez can play. He says yes to support the new event which is being staged in his home-town squash club. Miguel, enters and wins easily, beating people along the way who desperately need the PSA points to further their ranking as they embark on a professional squash career. So, even a good deed to help the sport, has negative ramifications for lower ranked players.
The intended system
The intended tiered system of tournaments has always been this; certain levels of tournaments are aimed for players of certain rankings. Now we see more and more players ‘dropping down’ to play smaller tournaments, making every tournament stronger than they ever have been. So now a Challenger 10 is more like a Challenger 20 or 30, and Challenger 5 events are more like a Challenger 10. This is making it harder to earn the ranking points needed for every level of player, except the top 24 who can generally get entry into the major World Tour events (of which there are more than ever). I’ve recently spoken to a player around 30 in the World, and another around 50. Both of these players have noticed that the tournaments they enter have become stronger, making the required points they need harder to achieve. This is also the case at lower-level tournaments, and this is perhaps more detrimental to the sport. If players outside the World Top 100 who are desperately trying to climb up the rankings, play an event but come across a World Top 60 player in round 1, they’re probably going to lose, giving them very few PSA points. I’m sure you understand the knock-on effect this divisor change is having.
This is simple. I think the divisor can be kept the same as I understand it will be difficult for the PSA to change it because it will instantly affect many players rankings which will cause upset among many, because let’s face it – it’s not their fault if they used the system to their benefit. Instead, they need to introduce a ‘ranking cap’ onto each level of tournament. This will solve the problem right away and this needs to be implemented with immediate effect so it is up and running before the start of the new season.
This Ranking Cap would involve a simply worded new rule. eg. Challenger 5 – For players ranked 91 and below only. Challenger 10 – For players ranked 71 and below only. Challenger 20 – For players ranked 51 and below only. Challenger 30 – For players ranked 31 and below only. Any World Tour Event – For players ranked 1 and below.
A tournament last week in Austria was a Challenger 10. Five players ranked inside the World Top 70 entered. Players in the 60-70 ranking bracket average 100-130 PSA points per event they play (according to their best 10 events which their ranking is based on). A Challenger 10 Tournament has the following points up for grabs. Position 1 – 200, 2 – 130, 3-4 – 80, 5-8 – 50, 9-16 – 30. Here you can see that unless these players get to the final, they will earn too few points to increase their ranking. While players ranked near 100 in the World who average 50-60 points per event, who really need to get to the QF or further to increase their ranking, will obviously find it very difficult to do so. Therefore, apart from the winner and runner-up, everyone else is going home disappointed, or simply not choosing to use the points earned as one of their best 10 events. This is a recent example of a tournament at the very end of the season too, where tournaments are usually weaker because many players have already stepped away from tournaments for the summer.
To me, it’s necessary to fix this asap because the tour is not supporting players apart from those at the very top. I do actually believe that if you’re good enough, you will reach the ranking which you should, because you should beat the players you’re better than – but how many players will become disheartened early on in their careers as they struggle to climb the World Rankings, or even struggle to get into tournaments in the first place. Stronger tournaments mean lower ranked players can’t even get into the top 16 ranked players who have entered (most events are a 16 player draw), so they’re not even given a chance to turn up and try to beat the higher ranked players. The number of times I’ve heard of a player who has entered an event, expecting to be one of the top 8 seeds, and then they haven’t even made it into the top 16!
I hope I’ve highlighted the negative knock-on effect of this new system. The solution is a simple one which could be implemented tomorrow – and I don’t think I’m being too dramatic to say if it is not, it can ruin our sport on the professional stage. The depth of the World Circuit is essential for driving standards forward, as well as encouraging an increasing population of all standards of players in our sport.