Last week Keir Worth stepped down from his role as CEO of England Squash.
This offers a great opportunity for a failing organisation to inject some new ideas, re-assess current protocols and transform England Squash to become a governing body which squash in England deserves.
It’s easy to point fingers to a sport governing body and say that it is terrible but it is another thing altogether to know how to fix it – or even how to offer constructive criticism. There are certain areas which I feel need addressing immediately.
The communication is poor. England Squash needs to be a present organisation in squash players’ lives. They need to engage with the squash players of England. Every squash player from James Willstrop to a club player playing 4th division league matches on a Thursday night should feel valued. I feel England Squash has always had an over-inflated sense of importance – always feeling that people and clubs should contact them instead of the other way around. England Squash should be touching base with clubs and even individual members on a regular basis, offering individual support. In-order-to undo 30 years of misfiring, elusive “leadership”, they need to become a regular, positive presence in our lives.
A new head of any organisation offers an easy way-in to begin communication streams. Simply ask for feedback and advice. Send out a short blanket form to gather feedback from thousands of squash fans and squash players in this country. We’ve said it time and time again – squash is one of the most sociable sports which means people talk to each other, so therefore people have opinions, and in squash, usually well researched opinions. People involved with squash are nice and my experience is that they love to help. Valuing its membership base, especially from a lower standard of competitor can really help transform England Squash. Please listen to your people.
The junior tournament circuit must seriously be addressed. I regularly speak to disgruntled parents who are bemused by almost every aspect of the junior circuit in England. England Squash needs to help and encourage clubs to host events, not to hinder. Expensive fees for hosting and entering an event are often prohibitive. Clubs begin the day feeling positive and wanting to help the sport, then quickly have their hopes dashed by England Squash, and soon realise they are best to not have a relationship with the governing body and generally go it alone. This is bad! England Squash should be trying to forge strong relationships with as many, if not every club in the country. Along with communication, club and regional junior development is a perfect place to start.
Media relations need to begin with the BBC and any other major outlets outside of squash. The sports needs to create a new legacy. In 2013 having Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro both holding the World Championship titles at the same time should have been huge national news for our sport – but it wasn’t. We have learned that Egypt created a national wave of excitement after Ahmed Barada’s exploits in front of the pyramids. This led to a massive increase in participation in the country and on the back of that we now see Egypt dominating the squash world. England could have emulated this. Cycling did it after the London 2012 Olympics and we still see cyclist after cyclist on the roads which we didn’t see pre-2012. I know squash isn’t lucky enough to have the stage of the Olympics, but we have some very powerful media outlets (just ask Harry and Meghan!). Local papers and local news channels can be a great place to start. 15 years ago the North West Counties Squash League had their weekly results and reports printed in the paper – The Telegraph nonetheless, as well as in three other regional papers. That is long gone but there is no reason for it not to start up again – we just need someone determined and persistent enough to make it happen. If newspapers are given a written report every week they can fill column inches without having to put any effort in, so everyone’s a winner. If Sarah Jane Perry wins a massive tournament in Egypt, beating the World Numbers 3, 5 and 8 consecutively like she did at the Black Ball Open in December – as a squash fan wanting squash to grow in The UK, I wanna hear about it in the national news, not just on squashsite.co.uk – And England Squash should ride her wave, mentioning it whenever possible for at least a year to reach as many non-squash players as they can. Then hopefully she or someone else has new and even better news to celebrate and the cycle repeats. Even though squash is an individual sport it doesn’t mean we aren’t all in this together. Individual successes should be the sports successes and provide platforms for growth.
We are not the only nation guilty of not making the most out of past successes. Look at Canada. They had Jonathon Power as World No.1 and World Champion, with Graham Ryding also in and around the top 10, and several other players inside the world’s top 80 for over a decade – yet where are Canada now on the men’s international squash scene? Jon Power actually tried to set up a squash club, but it was a private venture and it was not well enough located, planned and publicised. If he had the full backing of Canada Squash and it was a joint venture, surely they could have created a popular squash hub, attracting hundreds if not thousands of new squash players, as well as an elite training centre which would secure the future of the sport in Canada for a decade or two at least. I feel England Squash need to utilise Laura and Nick as much as possible before it’s too late. Do not simply hope that they do a great job of promoting squash within their own private ventures (which they have made a good start) but instead get involved with them, partner with them, fund them on major projects and do not let their name die out. Create a wave of new interest and new potential using their knowledge and their legacy.
The approach to coaching at an elite level also needs to be altered if we are to compete again at the very top of the world rankings, but I think that’s a topic for a more specific, technical coaching blog.
These are just a few ideas of where England Squash can look to inject some time and effort in this time of ‘possible’ change and reform. This is not a character assassination of Kier Worth. England Squash had a very poor reputation way before he was the CEO. I have absolutely no bad feeling toward Kier whatsoever, but this situation merely offers time for a change and to fix a governing body which has been majorly faltering for several decades.
England Squash must not continue along the same path because they are not governing in a way which our sport deserves. We play a wonderful sport and it needs to grow. In a Sky Sports interview this week, PSA COO Lee Beachill touched on one of the reasons squash is such an important sport for the world – it’s sociable. People need squash more than ever after an 18-month global pandemic where social activity has been reduced to a bare minimum. Squash needs our national governing bodies to grow our sport; to find ways to encourage more people to walk into their local squash club when they never have before; and certainly in England, to increase our presence both nationally and internationally.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions at this ‘possible’ time of hopefully positive change for England Squash.