Squash is often perceived as a classic individual sport. All the top events like the World Open and British Open are individual events, and there is little coverage of the top players outside solo competition. So is squash a team sport as well?
Squash is often a team sport in both the amateur and professional games. Many amateurs are members of squash clubs, and play matches against other clubs as part of a team. In the professional game, there are many team competitions. There is also the discipline of doubles squash.
There is a long history of team professional squash, as well as an even longer one in the amateur game. Squash is essentially a very social game, and most players are keen to engage in some kind of a team ethic.
Amateur Squash Teams
A large proportion of squash players play for some kind of team. For many this really enhances the social side of the sport.
Most squash clubs will have some kind of team, and most will have multiple teams, sometimes up to as many as ten. Teams will usually play once a week during the season. In the UK, the main squash night is Thursday night for league squash.
Playing for a team brings many benefits including:
- Feeling a sense of camaraderie
- Strengthening the social aspect of the sport
- Learning from others
- Experiencing marking and refereeing
- Giving a context to your weekly performance, and something to strive for
Most clubs have teams for both ladies and men, with the men’s league being mixed, with many women playing to a high level in that standard.
Many will also offer veteran teams in some age bracket determined by the league.
The History Of Squash As A Team Sport
Squash is also a team sport in the professional arena.
When the first Men’s World Team Squash Championships were hosted by Sydney in 1967, just six nations competed.
Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Pakistan were the nations represented at the World Squash Team Championships. It was a gathering of the mini-Commonwealth, a reunion of Empire. Twenty-four players represented their nations at the inaugural event.
Of those 24 players, four are instantly recognisable to the squash layman. They are Geoff Hunt and Cam Nancarrow (both of whom were spearheads of the Australian team), Jonah Barrington (Great Britain) and India’s Sanjit Roy (who has honestly become more famous for other things since his squash playing days.
The World Team Squash Championships
The World Team Squash Championships are sanctioned by the World Squash Federation (WSF).
In the beginning, there was only a men’s event but since 1979, women have also been involved. Traditionally the men’s and women’s events are held separately and the championships are held every two years.
In the tournament’s current incarnation, nations enter teams of three or four players, depending on the workload that the individuals are prepared to shoulder. There is also the element of trust to be taken into account here.
Sometimes teams have three players of the highest calibre and the fourth is a chap who simply can’t be trusted to deliver on his mandate in the team, regardless of how minimal a role he has to play. In the team format, the margin for error is minimal.
2017 World Team Squash Championships
Traditionally the World Team Squash Championships take place over a one-week period, normally towards the end of a calendar year. At the 2017 Men’s event, 24 nations competed in the championships.
The African continent was represented by two nations, South Africa and Egypt.
The Americas were represented by four nations, Argentina, Canada, Jamaica and the United States.
Asia had five slots at the last event. Those slots were filled by Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Malaysia and Pakistan.
The Europeans had eleven slots, one of them being allocated to hosts France. The other slots went to Austria, Czech Republic, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland and Wales.
Oceania had two representatives at the last team championships, Australia and New Zealand.
In the tournament’s current incarnation, you have eight pools of three teams/nations. The top two teams from each pool qualify for the Round of 16, at which point the tournament becomes a straight knockout event.
These championships are team events, but they only feature singles matches. The format is that nations compete in a best of three singles structure.
The most recent women’s event was hosted by China and featured the following 16 teams:
Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, USA. In the women’s event, four pools of four teams were featured.
At the end of the pool phase, the top two teams then advanced to the quarter-finals, at which point the competition became a straight knockout event.
Analysis, regardless of the field and no matter how comprehensive, is often flawed. However, at the very least the World Team Squash Championships do offer the sport a different perspective.
One great tragedy with the World Team Squash Championships is that the greatest woman (Nicol David) to ever step onto a squash court has never lifted a tournament Gold Medal at this event.
The one great irony, perhaps, is that the closest Nicol David came to winning Gold was at Canada 2014 – when was no longer at the peak of her powers.
Pakistani Squash In The 1950s And 60s
The other great tragedy of the World Team Squash Championships is that they – through no fault of the game’s stakeholders – exclude the most important chapter in Pakistan’s greatest sporting story.
Between 1951 and 1963, the Final of the British Open (the most prestigious tournament in the world at the time) was contested by two members of the Khan family. The remaining three Finals during that period were won by a Khan.
There is little, to no doubt that Pakistan would have been the most successful nation in World Team Squash Championship history by a country mile.
Then there is also the small matter of the Egyptian dominance from Amr Bey and Mahmoud Karim just before and shortly after World War II. There is no point in dwelling on that though. We can only analyse what is in front of us.
Team Squash In The Modern Age
What the World Team Squash Championships reveal, more than anything else, is the depth or the lack thereof in any given nation. We have already touched on the Nicol David (Malaysia) story and the men’s equivalent to this would be Grégory Gaultier’s French story.
The Frenchman has competed in two World Team Squash Championship Finals and has absolutely nothing to show for it.
The one overwhelming theme that comes to the fore yet again at the World Team Squash Championships is the sheer scale of Australian sporting dominance across various traditional sporting codes.
They generally don’t achieve this as individuals either, they do it as teams. Even when Australia no longer had an outstanding tennis player, the Davis Cup team was still hugely successful.
One of Great Britain’s crowning achievements was the introduction of sport into schooling system. The rest of the world might be slightly disenchanted by the notion in the modern age. However, one nation that has believed in it through and through is Australia.
The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) was established in 1981. It is the product of an aggressive drive by the Australian Sports Commission to better coordinate sports in that country. Success and achievement is one of the goals but the desire to raise better and better-rounded young people has always been more important.
Amateur Team Squash
Squash is sometimes still confused about its standing in society. Should it be an amateur sport or should it be a professional sport? All the evidence suggests that full out professional is the way to go but sometimes team events like the World Team Squash Championships bring out the best in the sport’s amateur ideals.
Teamwork is a key component in that but it extends beyond this. These championships deal with bigger issues like rediscovering that sense of duty, that sense of service and the establishment of national pride. All things that enhance society in more significant ways than the individual ever could.
It is also proof that professional and amateur squash can co-exist.
All of the continental squash federations also see the value in team competition.
The European Squash Team Championships take place every year. There is an event for men and women and both competitions take place at the same venue. Traditionally countries enter teams of four of five players.
Teams compete in best of four singles matches.
The English men and women have totally dominated this competition. Both teams have won the tournament 40 times since its inception. There is slender evidence to suggest this dynamic will change dramatically in the foreseeable future, even though France has won three of the last four men’s events.
The Asian Games have been every four years since 1951. Remarkably, squash has only featured in those games since 1998. Preceded by codes like Wushu and Kabaddi, which is a little embarrassing really.
It is also an ominous sign for a code that is still battling to win over the favour of the International Olympic Committee.
The Asian Games
The Asian Games present another avenue for squash to be contested as a team sport. The Olympic Games have no equal but the Asian Games are absolutely massive, the closest any other event will come to the Olympics and stature and even prestige.
The fact that squash has only featured at the Asian Games since 1998 represents another great tragedy for the Pakistani story in the sport. That is effectively half a century of Pakistani dominance in squash missing from the annals of Asian Games history.
Well, we guess there is no point in dwelling on that either. We can only analyse what is in front of us. All we see is Malaysian success and Nicol David with seven Gold Medals. Legacy secured.
For the first three squash events at the Asian Games, it was just about men’s and women’s singles. However, the team competition has been introduced for the last three events.
Malaysia has been the most successful nation at four of the six squash events at the Asian games. As is to be expected, Malaysia tops the all-time medal table too. That is eleven Golds, six Silvers and nine Bronzes.
What is most apparent is that Pakistan has lost a lot of its thunder during the past two decades.
While squash continues with its struggle for acceptance at the Olympics, there are the World Games. Squash has featured at those games since 1997. Malaysia (AKA Nicol David) has dominated this event too, primarily because it is an individual competition and not really a team event.
That is three Golds to France and Great Britain’s two each.
Squash At The Commonwealth Games
Squash made its first appearance at the Commonwealth Games in 1998. The good news is that it is now one of the core sports.
The special thing about the Commonwealth Games is that they have a singles event for men and women, a doubles event for men and women and a mixed doubles event. This is interesting because doubles in squash doesn’t nearly get the attention that it deserves.
Squash doubles, as the name suggests features two teams of two players. There is actually a meaningful history with squash doubles, which was first played in 1907.
Doubles in squash remains very prominent in North America, where it is sanctioned by Squash Canada and U.S Squash. Together the two nations have 179 courts. It is a format of the game that hasn’t really captured the imagination of those outside of North America though and that is a tremendous pity.
Doubles also offers a social element to the sport that singles doesn’t necessarily do. If the sport is to do better at growing internationally, advancing the doubles agenda more aggressively might be a good point of departure.
Beyond the Commonwealth Games, the other prominent international doubles events include:
– The Lapham-Grant Trophy, between the United States and Canada.
– World Squash Doubles Championship, which normally features Australia, Canada, England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland and the United States.
– Copa-Wadsworth, which is the United States against Mexico
– The Can Am Cup, which is also between the United States and Canada
Back to the Commonwealth Games though. Australia has been the best squash nation at three of those events. New Zealand has been the best nation at two of those events, while England was the best nation at India 2010.
Australia tops the all-time medal table with 11 Golds, followed by England with nine Golds. New Zealand comes in third with five Golds.
While many of the former British colonies might have some misgivings about the Commonwealth Games, squash’s future might hinge on these games.
Squash doubles is growing in popularity around the world. Here is a video of what a squash doubles match looks like:
The International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA) and Women’s Doubles Squash Association (WDSA) are the two most global bodies governing the sport in the doubles format. It is a lot of responsibility to shoulder in an era when the Professional Squash Association (PSA) hogs the entire spotlight.
The PSA doesn’t do much to advance the interests of doubles in squash. By all accounts there isn’t even an official squash doubles ranking.
Nevertheless, the ISDA and WDSA work together with Squash Canada and U.S Squash to advance the interests of the doubles format in the game.
The World Doubles Championship takes place every two years. One of the problems is that the event is only every held in the United States and Canada.
However small it might be in the global context, professional doubles is honestly being well managed in the United States and Canada. There is a decent yearly roster, which has been sustained since as far back as the 1930s.
Among the tournaments that have featured regularly or permanently on that roster are the following:
– North American Open
– U.S. Pro
– The Elite
– Cambridge Club
– Gold Racquet
– Buffalo Invitational