Squash leader pushes for inclusion
LONDON -- The leader of squash's governing body doesn't consider wrestling a "big threat" as eight sports fight for a single spot in the 2020 Olympics.
World Squash president N. Ramachandran told The Associated Press on Friday he is confident his sport can win its bid for inclusion despite the high-profile support wrestling has received since being dropped by the IOC executive board last month.
"Everybody knew one sport was going to get dropped," Ramachandran said. "Be it any sport that was taken off, you'd have had the same hype. You would have had the same people, the supporters of that particular sport complaining that their sport should not have been dropped."
Wrestling's exclusion triggered a backlash around the world, with officials in the United States, Russia, Iran and other countries leading a push to bring the sport back. The influential associations of national Olympic committees and international federations have supported wrestling's return.
"Any sport would have done that," Ramachandran said. "If you have been in the Olympics long enough, you definitely have the support of many countries, many IOC members and so forth. So any sport that would have gone out would have caused a backlash. Everybody knew that one sport would go out. I don't see that as a big threat."
Wrestling, which dates back to the ancient Olympics and the first modern Games in 1896, has changed leadership and is making rules changes in a bid to win reinstatement.
Squash and wrestling are among the sports that will make presentations to the IOC board on May 29 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The others are a combined baseball-softball bid, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, and the martial arts of karate and wushu.
The board will select one or more to submit for final consideration to the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"My job is to promote the sport of squash and that is what I'm doing," Ramachandran said. "I concentrate on my sport and I leave it at that."
Squash is bidding for a third time to get into the Olympics. It failed in 2005, when the IOC voted not to accept any new sports, and again in 2009, when rugby and golf won inclusion for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Ramachandran said squash has learned its lesson.
"We have totally changed the sport on its head," he said. "The last time, we bid for the sport in the Olympics but we had not changed our sport to suit the standards of the IOC.
"Now we have done that, we have spoken to the IOC, we have improved our sport and the result is there for everybody to see. It is totally different from what existed two or three years ago."
Among the improvements, Ramachandran cited the use of glass courts, referee video reviews, a new scoring system and state-of-the art television technology that allows spectators to see the ball more clearly.
"The game has been totally transformed in the last two or three years," he said. "Where there was possibly a downward trend in the people playing squash, that has been rectified. The sport is more attractive for youngsters and this has resulted in a renaissance for squash."
Squash is already played in the Pan American Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Games and Youth Olympics.
Ramachandran said the sport is "cheap" to include in the Olympics, with two easy-to-install courts. Squash, which would include 32 men and 32 women players in the Olympics, could share a venue with badminton or another sport.
Ramachandran said squash courts could be located at iconic venues in any of the three cities bidding for the 2020 Games.
"In Istanbul, I can set it up next to the Blue Mosque," he said. "In Madrid, I can put it outside the (royal) palace. I can put up in the Ginza district in Tokyo. We can showcase the city like no other sport can."
Ramachandran dismissed the suggestion that the Olympics has enough racket sports with tennis, badminton and table tennis. He also said his sport meets the IOC's requirement for universality, being played around the world.