When you look at all the Squash super nations in terms of most successes, Australia is in the top five – however, in the last few years the sport has declined in popularity, why this?
According to an article published by Andy Whipp, Squash Mad, Australia is facing a challenge to make the sport again with a younger generation.
Australia is famous for other things besides sport – but in Squash, it should be right up there alongside other famous Australian pastimes.
Recently at the inaugural Squash Summit hosted by Sportageous, the CEO of Squash Australia spoke about future and the challenges facing Squash in a great country:
Just like England, Australia is facing a participation issue.
According to stats in online article published by ABC News in 2020 revealed key stats on Squash in Australia:
- The sport had about one million participants in its heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s
- In 2016, participation rates for squash had dropped to about 100,000 people nationally
- The national body says that number is improving at a rate of about 20,000 per year
Nevertheless, Australia can become a force to be reckoned with in Squash.
Decades of world domination, both men’s and women’s division
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Australia ruled Squash with both Heather McKay dominating the women’s division and Geoff Hunt a consistent finalist in the major tournaments playing against the greats of the late 1970s, notably Jonah Barrington and Jahangir Khan.
Oddly enough, Heather still holds the record for winning 16 consecutive British Open titles from 1962 to 1977 – (a record that still stands to present) and she was the first inaugural women’s World Open title in 1976, followed by a second title in 1979.
As for Geoff, he was first inaugural winner of men’s World Open title in 1976 and first male to win the title consecutively from 1979 to 1981. He won British Open on 8 occasions and was runner-up on two occasions.
By the 1980s were a major Squash playing nation, as by early 2000s Australia made history with most men’s and women’s team titles at the World Teams Championships with no fewer 17 titles spanning the 4 decades.
From the 1990s onwards into the 2000s, Squash fans in Australia had every reason to jeer with as the country continued to dominate again with new stars.
In World Open of 1991, which took place in Adelaide, Rodney Martin beat Jahangir Khan in final having fought of competition from Jansher Khan in the quarter-finals and fellow Aussie Chris Dittmar in the semis – who could say home pride was at stake.
In 1997, Brisbane’s Rodney Eyles won the World Open in 1997.
Little known fact, both Eyles and Martin won the US Open on two occasions – Eyles in 1993/1997 and Martin 1989/1991.
As for women’s Squash, young women of Australia could draw inspiration from both Michelle Martin and Sarah Fitzgerald, who dominated the women category in the 1990s.
With Michelle Martin, she was world No.1 for four years between 1993 and 1999 and won three World Open titles and six British Open titles.
Sarah Fitzgerald held world no.1 for 3 ½ years and has won five World Open titles (1996-1998, 2001 & 2002), plus continued to represent Australia in world team championship from 1987 to 2010.
Ironically, both Sarah Fitzgerald and Michelle Martin are both considered greatest female Squash players alongside fellow Australian Heather McKay, Janet Morgan, Nicol David, and Susan Devoy – having won the women’s world open titles on more two occasions.
David Palmer was world No.1 and between 2001 and 2008, he won two World Open titles and four British Open titles, plus a win at the US Open in 2002 – thus making one of Squash greats for his accomplishments.
Australia can also boast about Squash family – the Grinham sisters, both Rachel and younger sister Natalie, have won major Squash tournament titles.
Rachel has won the British Open title (Rachel 2003, 2004, 2007, & 2009) and Natalie won 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, along with both mixed doubles and women’s double titles, along with two World Team Championships titles too, plus won US Open in 2004 and 2005.
Overall, Australian Squash players have dominated the sport for four decades and are perhaps one of the best Squash nations in the world.
Commonwealth Games host, home advantage brings along success
In 2018, Queensland hosted the Commonwealth Games – a tournament made a statement in saying that Squash be a major feature of the Olympic Games.
Read our blog on the 2018 Commonwealth Games
In the all medals list of the Commonwealth Games, Australia has won gold medals and have host two Commonwealth games in which they took home gold in individual and team categories beating the likes of England and neighbours New Zealand.
Maybe Australia can build on this legacy to promote the sport more.
Like most countries with Squash, Australia is in the same predicament as other nations in which the sport has suffered a major decline in participation – a lack of media coverage.
Considering declining popularity of Squash in Australia, the sport is very popular with few celebs from the great country – Daniel Ricciardo, and Hugh Jackman.
Unlike other squash super nations, the country does not lack the expertise – they have this in abundance.
Maybe make things right with Squash in Australia, there needs to some form media platform to boost it to the masses; hence, our good friends Sportageous are the ones to help with this plus look about bringing the sport to the schools with a major backer and considering widening the participation with different personas.
The one thing that Australia has plenty of is glorious weather, so outdoor Squash could be the answer to solving the lack of provision, given the number of parks and beach resorts, you could easily picture an a few outdoor Squash courts.
To sum up, there’s a major revival in Squash at present and if you look at the US, they have recently changed develop their Squash provision, such as more of a community approach through education institutions, plus New York squash tournament and – perhaps Australia could do the same.
Personally, Australia has a strong Squash legacy and needs to generate some form coverage to engage with a younger generation – such as a feature in one of their major soap operas.
When looking at the many sports leagues in Australia, Squash could easily become popular along the likes of Aussie Rules Football, Cricket, Rugby, and the Repco Supercars (formerly V8 Supercars – Holden v Ford).
Let’s hope Robert Donaghue can capitalise on Australia’s legacy and make the sport popular again in living rooms of Australia.