Two dreams for Indian squash

N. Ramachandran (seated second from left) who was re-elected as President, WSF, with other office bearers after the AGM held in Stockholm on September 30.-N. Ramachandran (seated second from left) who was re-elected as President, WSF, with other office bearers after the AGM held in Stockholm on September 30.

“We have changed squash upside down. Player facilities, spectators’ environment or technical aspects, all have seen phenomenal changes,” WSF President N. Ramachandran tells S. R. Suryanarayan.

Balancing his time between business and squash, N. Ramachandran, who recently was re-elected President of the World Squash Federation, is expectedly a busy man. Few Indians have had the honour of heading a World sports body. For one who pioneered the progress of squash in India, Ramachandran’s ability has helped him progress far — from national level to Asian Squash President and then the ultimate, the President of the WSF for the third term now. Challenges are not new to him and currently he carries the aspirations and hopes of a legion of squash fans with the sport awaiting a possible Olympic entry. In a year’s time it will be known if squash will be a medal sport in the 2020 Games. “The whole thinking, planning and work in the WSF is towards that end,” Ramachandran said in an interview with Sportstar.

Excerpts:

Question: You had a contest before you became the WSF President for the first time. Unanimous wins have followed since. What does this mean?

Answer: On the first occasion what happened was that Chris Stahl, a former President of the European Federation, decided to contest. However, on the day of the election, he withdrew, stating what the WSF needed was a touch of solidity with the sport aiming to get into the Olympics. He then said, while stepping down, that ‘Rami’ (Ramachandran) had greater experience to shoulder the responsibility. Chris was made Vice-President and we as a team, have been sticking to our task of meeting the goal. Members have been obviously happy with our professional approach with the International Olympic Committee. The re-election is a vote for unity and continuity.

Looking back, having planned and realised a world class academy to put Indian squash on a firm footing, did you visualise a role at the world level one day?

To be honest, no. My vision was limited to India then. Changes came when I was roped in as Vice- President in charge of referees and coaching in the Asian body. Our efforts compared well with other regions in the world. Suggestions came for me to take up a greater role. The Presidentship of the ASF followed. Usually, as President of a continental unit, the next step is a VP in the World body. But I had the honour of being straightaway elevated as President of WSF.

How is it to head a World body?

Quite challenging. One has to deal with different outlooks, cultures, work attitude. To deal with people of various regions in the world one requires lot of diplomacy. I am not known for that (smiles). My frankness is my strong point and I believe that has worked.

What have been the major decisions taken by WSF ever since you came to the helm?

We have changed squash upside down. Player facilities, spectators’ environment or technical aspects, all have seen phenomenal changes. We now have all-glass courts, even glass floor (a far cry from the wooden bases). Spectators now have the benefit of huge monitors (linked to high definition cameras) for action-replays (like in cricket). Then again, in place of one referee for a match we now have three. In addition a fourth referee studies action-replay when a player seeks a review. The scoring system has changed with the introduction of rally points, assuring non-stop action. The next plan is for matches in a gladiatorial arena — steeply set circular stands with action in the centre. All changes so far have been well received, we hope, by the IOC too.

What do you miss most, travelling as you do as the WSF head?

My family, of course, then friends and the charm of Chennai. Every day when in the city, my grandson awaits my arrival home at 4.45 p.m. I miss those moments. As far as possible I keep my travels short and squash, I must say, has taken me practically to all parts of the world.

Among the sportspersons you have had the opportunity to interact with, who has impressed you the most?

As WSF President, I have met many IOC members. Most of them were prominent Olympic medallists. Interactions with them have helped me gain much, for their experience is unmatched in the world of sports. Still, none impressed me more than Dr. Jacques Rogge, the IOC President. He is wonderfully charming and his views and knowledge of various sports are illuminating.

What is your dream for Indian squash?

Actually, two. An Indian World champion and an Indian Olympic medallist.