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OLYMPIC GAMES 2012 - THOUGHTS OF TEAM GB's WORLD No.1

12-07-30

The Gaurdian's Donald McRae reported on Monday 7 May 2012 :-

James Willstrop: London 2012 would have been perfect stage for squash.

Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

James Willstrop, the world No1
Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

James Willstrop, the erudite but almost unknown squash world No1, said the IOC was wrong not to include his sport for the Olympic Games.

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Next Monday (14 May 2012), at London's O2, on the edge of the Olympic heartland, the British Open will showcase the absorbing rivalry between Willstrop (UK World No.1) and Matthew (UK World No.2) – as well as Ramy Ashour, Egypt's feted young magician of the court. It will also ask the perplexing question as to why the IOC (International Olympic Committee) shuns squash – especially in this London Olympic year when Britain supplies the world's two best players. "Our worst disappointment came in 2005," Willstrop says, "when we came so close to being included in London 2012. They had removed two sports but chose not to vote in any replacements. So I wasn't surprised when, voting for 2016, they went for golf and rugby sevens. Golfers have huge fame and wealth and that drew the IOC – which also decided rugby sevens would fill some arenas."

As the sport strives to be included in 2020, Willstrop extols the virtues of squash. "It's tailor-made for the Olympics. Squash has so many dimensions – speed, endurance, flexibility, agility, skill and psychology. It's accessible and inclusive. I wish they'd see us in a stark setting like this, in Nuremberg, where small countries get a chance. I'm not really a team-man but I love this competition because some years we've had amateurs from the Isle of Man or Estonia next to the world No1.

"Squash is played all over the world and yet 90 men sit in a hall and vote us out. I don't know what more the IOC wants from us because we've got as many Olympic attributes as any other sport. I don't think the world's top golfers will care about the Olympics and, let's face it, there's an inaccessibility about golf. They didn't let women on to some courses until recently."

Willstrop smiles thinly, but his incomprehension and hurt is plain. "It would've been incredible to be part of London 2012. You're seeing all the publicity Olympic sportsmen and women are getting and it reminds you how close we came. It would be wonderful to bask in that recognition. But we'll just be watching TV at home this summer. I love the fact that low-profile but incredible people, like Sarah Stevenson in taekwondo, are on this great stage. I just wish we could also be there."

Later, at lunch, we are joined by his friend, Jenny Duncalf. After five minutes of amiable chit-chat I ask her what she is doing in Nuremberg. Willstrop laughs gently. "Jenny's No2 in the world," he explains. My embarrassed apologies are handled graciously by Duncalf. "I don't expect you to know me," she smiles ...

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