‘No money in the game’

Amr Shabana, the World No. 1, blames the WSF for not doing anything to promote the game. By S. R. Suryanarayan.

At 28, Amr Shabana has already tasted the kind of success few in contemporary squash have. He has been variously described — as a man with a magical pair of hands, a genius whose class can touch dizzying heights and a player who is one of a kind in the world of squash. Yet, in Chennai, the Egyptian proved that, after all, he is a mere mortal.

Fresh from his triumph in Bermuda, where he picked up his third World Open title, Shabana had to be the man in focus at the World Men’s Team Championship. But he proved to be a big disappointment and could hardly provide more than a glimpse of his class that has been an envy of fellow squash players. Perhaps he was overcome by fatigue, having played in over six tournaments without a break.

Shabana, who lost to Australia’s David Palmer first and then to Frenchman Gregory Gaultier — the Egyptian had beaten both in Bermuda — however made news off the court with his fiery statements against the World Squash Federation.

Excerpts of the interview:

Question: How do you motivate yourself and how do you handle the pressures? How many hours do you practise?

Answer: I just go and play to win and think of nothing else. My effort is always to do well. I do not think of rankings and there is no pressure on me. I train in the morning and evening, totally about five hours.

How did you take to squash?

My father plays squash. My mother was a champion in her times. My sister Salma was also a champion player and so from a young age my interest was tuned to squash. Salma initially helped me in training. I do not have any coach now. I don’t need to because I know the areas that I have to take care of, and I do it accordingly.

Who is your idol? Who inspires you in squash?

Nobody in particular, but I followed everybody’s game. In my earlier days I spent a lot of time viewing the games of the greats. I believe in picking the best from everyone because each had a specific strength. Jansher was quick, Jehangir was strong, Eyles, Martin…. well everybody had something to offer.

What is your take on squash still not becoming an Olympic sport?

I think squash should have been there just for the level of performances and the performers. But what has the WSF (World Squash Federation) done? Nothing. The sport should have grown 10 times bigger than what it is today. In fact, instead of squash seeking an opening in Olympics, it should have been the other way around — Olympics should need squash.

There has been no marketing of squash. Players who have done well in the sport have never been used to further the image of squash. Squash should have been right up there with other racquet sports like tennis and badminton. But there is little money. The best prize money tournament in squash is the Saudi Open which offers the winner $31,000. There is so much that can be done.

But then you have a legendary figure like Jehangir Khan heading the WSF?

What can he do? He is a good man but he has his limitations. He is never allowed to have his way. Marketing is not his job. WSF should have a marketing wing in place and use players for global advertising. That will help lift the image of squash. The game has to be constantly shown on TV and the exposure will attract more players and advertisers.