Squash

Squash’s chances of 2020, 2024 Olympic inclusion

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The International Olympic Committee will make the second of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday.

Nearly 100 IOC members will choose one of three sports — baseball/softball, squash and wrestling — for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics from 11-11:45 a.m. Eastern time. For more on what happens Sunday, click here.

OlympicTalk will look at each sport’s pitch. Here is a rundown of squash:

In 2011, squash had to feel fairly confident about getting into the Olympics for 2020 and 2024, even though the vote was two years away.

That’s when the IOC short listed eight sports for possible inclusion — baseball, karate, roller sports, sports climbing, softball, squash, wakeboarding and wushu. Of those, only baseball, karate, roller sports and softball joined squash in 2009 when it came up short for 2016 inclusion, when golf and rugby made it.

In 2005, baseball and softball had been cut from the Olympics beginning with the 2012 Games. Also in 2005, karate and squash actually beat golf and rugby, as well as roller sports, in voting for 2012 inclusion, though none made it. Squash, so close and yet to be given a chance in the Olympics, was gaining momentum.

Squash is a racket sport pitting two competitors hitting a ball against a wall. Points are won if a ball bounces twice on the floor before one competitor gets to it. Points are lost for hitting the ball too low on the wall.

The last year saw a combination blow dent its hopes. In 2012, baseball and softball merged into one bid, strengthening the cause of both sports. In February, wrestling was cut from the list of Olympic core sports in a shocking decision, so the Olympic stalwart dropped into the group of squash and others looking for 2020 and 2024 inclusion.

In May, the IOC named three finalists. Squash made it again, as expected two years ago. So did baseball/softball and wrestling, two bids that, one year ago, wouldn’t have been candidates for Sunday’s vote. Squash could have been the popular pick heading into Buenos Aires. Not anymore.

The Associated Press described its chances as, “once the favorite, now maybe a stroke too far.” The New York Times called it “a long shot.”

“We’re happy that we’re in the final three,” said Kevin Klipstein, CEO of U.S. Squash since 2004, in a phone interview. “It was definitely actually a bit of a tough break, for wrestling to be selected as a sport to be eliminated (in February) because a lot of squash coverage was being viewed very favorably up until that point.”

Key information for IOC session in Buenos Aires

Klipstein said the feedback squash received after failed bids for 2012 and 2016 inclusion were to better its broadcast product. It added more streaming of the sport’s professional tours, shooting in HD with multiple camera angles. In the U.S., ESPN3 and Tennis Channel continue to give it more attention, but how far it has come is still questionable.

“We put together as good a product as we can,” Klipstein said. “We’ve done what we can do. See where it shakes out on Sunday.”

Klipstein said squash is on a similar trajectory to what tennis was on 30 or 40 years ago. Tennis greats such as Andre AgassiKim ClijstersRoger Federer and Andy Murray have backed the bid.

“I could be wrong, but I think why it’s not on TV as much is because it almost seems like the same point is getting played,” Murray said at the U.S. Open this week. “It’s maybe not the best spectator sport, but it’s a very difficult sport to play. You have to be extremely fit, have very good hand/eye coordination, good feel and good touch.”

Squash is cost-effective. It can be played on a glass court built pretty much anywhere.

“I could do it on the bridge over the Bosphorus (Turkey), in a bullfighting ring (Spain) or in the Imperial Palace gardens (Japan),” World Squash Federation president N. Ramachandran of India said, according to The Associated Press. “You tell me where to put it, and I will do it. You can put them up in a matter of three days.”

Squash hopes a man named Mike Lee can work more magic. Lee, described by different outlets as a lobbyist, strategist and consultant, worked for London 2012, Rio 2016, rugby’s successful bid and the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Another pro for squash is that it’s global. All five continents have produced world champions.

“With athletes 185 countries playing squash, I can count on going to tournaments and being surrounded by players from every part of the globe,” Amanda Sobhy, 20, the top-ranked U.S. squash player, told USA Today. “And yet, deep down inside, every single one of us would gladly trade all of our titles for the chance to compete in the Olympics.”

What it also has going is that it’s the only one of the candidates that has yet to be given a shot in the Olympic program. Winning the vote would increase its growing legitimacy.

“We’ve always viewed the Olympics as something we really want to achieve, for the athletes, that they get a chance to compete on the world’s biggest and brightest stage,” Klipstein said, “and it’s clear that we fit well into the Olympics overall in terms of the values that we have — the sportsmanship, the fact that it’s clean.”

Remember when wrestling gained attention for holding a meet inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal in May? Squash, in addition to an event outside the Egyptian pyramids, has been holding competitions at Grand Central for years.

“I guess imitation is flattery,” Klipstein said. “(Wrestling) got some nice publicity for it. I guess it’s a validation of the fact that we’re doing things that make sense.”

If squash doesn’t prevail Sunday, it’s not going to give up.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Klipstein said. “Dust ourselves off, come back with a stronger bid.”

Istanbul’s chances of hosting 2020 Olympics

Reaction to Olympic ruling not to ban Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 07:  The flag of Russia is raised during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) — The International Olympic Committee has opted against imposing a blanket ban on the Russian team for next month’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Meeting after World Anti-Doping Agency reports alleged widespread doping and state-backed cover-ups of failed drug tests by Russians, the IOC ruled that a ban across all sports would unjustly punish clean athletes in Russia.

However, the IOC has placed restrictions on the Russian team, including a measure barring the selection of any athletes who have previously served doping bans. It also set out eligibility criteria for the various international federations of Olympic sports.

Here is a look at the reaction in Russia and around the world:

“An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated and where he can show that he was not implicated…At the end of the day, we have to be able to look in the eye of the individual athletes concerned by this decision.” – IOC President Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencer, tells reporters why the IOC did not impose a blanket ban on Russia.

“When a crime is committed, the guilty party is tried and punished, but you don’t put his family, friends and acquaintances behind bars just because they knew the criminal or they live in the same town.” – Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov in an address to the IOC board ahead of its ruling not to impose a blanket ban.

“Many, including clean athletes and whistleblowers, have demonstrated courage and strength in confronting a culture of state-supported doping and corruption within Russia. Disappointingly, however, in response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership. The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes.” – U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart.

“The IOC decision was to be expected. You can’t behave improperly toward a power like Russia.” – Gennady Alyoshin, a Russian Olympic Committee official, in comments to Tass.

“We are grateful to the IOC for allowing Russian athletes in. I’m sure that the majority of the Russian national team will be able to comply with the criteria.” – Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

“Well, that’s the IOC board off my Xmas card list then,” – Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford of Britain on Twitter.

“We have created and been through the process. We know how hard it is emotionally and rationally to get the process right… We continue to stand by to assist and offer advice to any international sports federations.” Sebastian Coe, head of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, which barred all but one Russian athlete.

“Raising her to the status of a hero is like stupidly spitting in all our faces. So it’s right that she can’t compete at the Olympics. At least one wise decision on track and field has been taken.” – Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva discusses the IOC’s refusal to let doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova race in Rio, in comments to R-Sport.

MORE: IOC will not enforce complete ban on Russia for Rio Olympics

IOC will not enforce complete ban on Russia for Rio Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Rejecting calls by anti-doping officials for a complete ban on Russia, Olympic leaders on Sunday gave individual global sports federations the task of deciding which athletes should be cleared to compete in next month’s Rio de Janeiro Games.

Citing the need to protect the rights of individual athletes, the International Olympic Committee decided against taking the unprecedented step of excluding Russia’s entire team over allegations of state-sponsored doping. Instead, the IOC left it to 27 sports federations to make the call on a case-by-case basis.

“Every human being is entitled to individual justice,” IOC President Thomas Bach said after the ruling of his 15-member executive board.

At the same time, Bach said the IOC had decided on a set of “very tough criteria” that could dent Russia’s overall contingent and medal hopes in Rio, where the Olympics will open on Aug. 5.

Under the measures, no Russian athletes who have ever had a doping violation will be allowed into the games, whether or not they have served a sanction, a rule that has not applied to athletes in other countries.

In addition, the international sports federations were ordered to check each Russian athlete’s drug-testing record, with only doping controls conducted outside Russia counting toward eligibility, before authorizing them to compete. Final entry is contingent on approval from an independent sports arbitrator.

The IOC decision was sharply criticized by anti-doping bodies as a sellout that undermines clean athletes and destroys the idea of a level playing field.

“In response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement.

“The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes.”

Russia’s track and field athletes were already banned by the IAAF, the sport’s governing body, in a decision that was upheld Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The IOC accepted that ruling, but would not extend it to all other sports. Russia’s current overall team consists of 387 athletes, a number likely to be significantly reduced by the measure barring Russians who have previously served doping bans.

Calls for a complete ban on Russia intensified after Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer commissioned by WADA, issued a report Monday accusing Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing a vast doping program of its Olympic athletes.

McLaren’s investigation, based heavily on evidence from former Moscow doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, affirmed allegations of brazen manipulation of Russian urine samples at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but also found that state-backed doping had involved 28 summer and winter sports from 2011 to 2015.

“An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” Bach told reporters on a conference call after Sunday’s meeting. “It is fine to talk about collective responsibility and banning everybody, but at the end of the day we have to be able to look in the eyes of the individual athletes concerned by this decision,”

Bach acknowledged the decision “might not please everybody.”

“This is not about expectations,” he said. “This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world.”

Asked whether the IOC was being soft on Russia, Bach said: “Read the decision. … You can see how high we set the bar. This is not the end of the story but a preliminary decision that concerns Rio 2016.”

Tygart, however, questioned why the IOC “would pass the baton to sports federations who may lack the adequate expertise or collective will to appropriately address the situation within the short window prior to the games.”

The IOC also rejected the application by Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, an 800-meter runner and former doper who helped expose the doping scandal in her homeland, to compete under a neutral flag at the games. Stepanova, now living in the United States, competed as an individual athlete at last month’s European Championships in Amsterdam.

But the IOC said Stepanova did not meet the criteria for running under the IOC flag and, because she had been previously banned for doping, did not satisfy the “ethical requirements” to compete in the games. However, the IOC added that it would invite Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping official who also turned whistleblower, to attend the games.

Tygart expressed dismay at the decision to bar Stepanova.

“The decision to refuse her entry into the games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” he said.

That means only one Russian track athlete is eligible to compete in Rio: U.S.-based long jumper Darya Klishina was granted exceptional eligibility by the IAAF because she has been tested outside of Russia.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said “the majority” of Russia’s team complies with the IOC criteria and will be able to compete. About “80 percent” of the Russian team regularly undergoes international testing of the kind specified by the IOC, he said.

International federations will have only days to process the Russian cases, and some have little experience in handling doping matters. Many are still waiting for information from McLaren’s report. The International Tennis Federation, however, said Sunday that Russia’s eight-person tennis team meets the requirements as the players have been through regular international testing.

Sunday’s measures are still a blow to Russia, an Olympic powerhouse which finished third in total medals at the 2012 London Games.

The team could be without some of its star names in Rio because of the IOC measure barring any Russians who have previously served doping bans. However, the impact on the Russian medal tally is likely to be less severe than the damage caused by the earlier ban on its track team, Russia’s most successful contingent in London four years ago.

Among those set to be ruled out are swimmer Yulia Efimova, the world 100-meter breaststroke champion; 2012 Olympic silver medal-winning weightlifter Tatyana Kashirina; and two-time Olympic bronze medal-winning cyclist Olga Zabelinskaya. All three have previously served doping bans.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov presented his case to the IOC board at the beginning of Sunday’s meeting, promising full cooperation with investigations and guaranteeing “a complete and comprehensive restructuring of the Russian anti-doping system.”

He issued a strong plea against a full ban.

“My question is this: If you treat the cancer by cutting off the patient’s head and killing him, do you consider this as a victory in the fight?” he said in remarks released later. “That does not seem like a victory to me. But that is what is happening right now, as dozens of clean athletes are forced to miss the Olympic Games through no fault of their own.”

In its decision, the IOC also:

– asked the federations to examine the information and names of athletes and sports implicated in the McLaren report. Any of those implicated should not be allowed into the games, it said.

– said the federations would have to apply their own rules if they want to ban an entire Russian team from their events in Rio, as the IAAF has already done for track and field.

– said Russian entries must be examined and upheld by an expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

– ruled that Russian athletes who are cleared for the games will be subjected to a “rigorous additional out-of-competition testing program.”

The IOC also reiterated its “serious concerns” about the weaknesses in the fight against doping, and called on WADA to “fully review their anti-doping systems.” The IOC said it would propose measures for more transparency and independence.

MORE: Russia loses Olympic track and field ban appeal