The AJ Bell PSA World Championships was notable for many highlights, however from my own standpoint the tournament’s defining characteristic and achievement was the parity shown between the men’s and women’s championships.
Both the men’s and women’s events were held in the same event within the same city and whilst this isn’t a first, over the history of the two championships it hasn’t been the norm and you need to look back to Rotterdam in 2011 for the last occurrence the two tournaments were presented concurrently to achieve the same look, feel and atmosphere for both our male and female stars. It was however the first time that equality in the prize money has been achieved, following a trend started by the US Open in 2013 and adopted by a growing number of major events on international circuit.
Despite equal prize money being steadily achieved across the game, there are still many factors that have separated the two genders. The coverage of the female game until this season has always been significantly smaller, restricted to just a few flagship tournaments however with the merger of more major events has come the ability to broadcast on a more equal platform.
The age-old argument persists in some quarters regarding the difference in standard between the women’s product compared with their male counterparts and there is no way that in a sport as physical as squash that this will be ever be achieved to the absolute level. However, quality must be measured against what is achievable for each gender and I can say with my hand on my heart from what we witnessed in Manchester we are close to achieving our desired outcome.
From the outset it was clear that eight players had realistic ambitions of winning the women’s title which is a far cry from earlier generations which were dominated by one or two stand out figures. The efforts of an increasingly competitive chasing pack have created a shift in standard and resulted in greater depth in the women’s game. That isn’t to downplay the achievements of previous generations but having more players challenging for titles is raising standards and increasing the appeal of the women’s game.
The men’s and women’s product witnessed on court in Manchester was different and rightly so as physical attributes will always make the two fundamentally different. The difference of gender will always come through and therefore the tactics and subtleties will continue to vary as players look for percentage gains.
The emergence of Egyptian player has provided the game with a super dose of exciting shot makers and what stood out for me in Manchester was the movement and physical components exhibited by players to counter the increasing number of short balls. These two things combined take us ever closer to what is achievable.
The fluidity of movement from the eventual winner Raneem El Welily reminds me of that of the great Jansher Khan, while her skill level with a racket resembles that of her compatriot Ramy Ashour at his best. It isn’t right to compare Raneem to players in our men’s game because what she achieved in winning this year’s title is becoming a true icon of our sport in her own right.
For physicality and intensity, you don’t have to look much further than runner-up Nour El Sherbini or the French No.1 Camille Serme, whilst mental toughness can be found in abundance from the emerging Nour El Tayeb and Nouran Gohar. Tactical nouse and desire can always be found from our own English players Laura Massaro and Sarah-Jane Perry and I am sure their earlier that anticipated exits from last year’s championships will only fuel the fires to achieve even more.
To achieve absolute parity there are a few key differences that we appear ever closer to achieving across the two games. The next step is to look towards equal draw sizes at future world championships. In Manchester the women’s draw was half the size of the men’s and a step towards equal draw sizes can only help in bringing the quality we are seeing at the top of the game filter down the ranks.
The other area that needs focus is the depth of the talent pool and the number of players competing on the respective circuits. Currently the women’s rankings house far fewer players than that on the men’s circuit. I think these two aspects are increasingly likely to be achieved with the joint administration of the World Tour by the PSA with that later needing the support of all respective governing bodies around the world. Campaigns such as This Girl Can launched recently by England Squash can only help this cause.
The final icing on the cake which I feel needs to be achieved for our game to build upon the its current momentum is to create icons and role models of a greater definition in the women’s game. We have seen this in the men’s game with the adoption of recognisable nicknames and which has helped to increase the profile and status of our marquee players which is helping them to be more marketable for squash brands and other sponsors. More importantly though it inspires the next generation. We have an increasing number of players from our current crop of stars ready to be marketed better and this will bring an increasing realisation to women and girls that sport is for all and that our great game offers equally thriving opportunities across the board.
Josh Taylor is the England Squash National Performance Coach & UNSQUASHABLE brand ambassador.
UNSQUASHABLE is committed to developing equipment to be used by the world’s leading players because we believe that engineering equipment for professional competition makes for a better product for the everyday player.
UNSQUASHABLE sponsored players and brand ambassadors competing on the PSA World Tour are sponsored by AJ Bell, one of the UK’s largest providers of online investment platforms and stockbroker services.
For more information, visit: www.unsquashable.com
INSPIRED BY JAHANGIR KHAN