Former Champion Makes Case For Squash As An Olympic Sport

Members of the International Olympic Committee will consider Saturday whether to add baseball-softball, wrestling or squash to the 2020 Olympics. Host Scott Simon talks to former world champion squash player Jonathon Power, who feels squash is a lifetime sport with a fanatic following.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tomorrow, the International Olympic Committee will meet in Buenos Aires to decide which sport - wrestling, the combined sports of baseball and softball, or squash - will be added to the 2020 Olympics. Now, if squash is chosen, it would make its debut as an Olympic sport. Jonathon Power was the first North American to become the world's top-ranked squash player. He joins us on the line now. Thanks very much for being with us.

JONATHON POWER: An absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Give us what we call here your elevator speech. Why should squash be included?

POWER: I feel strongly about the fact that it's played in 180 different countries by 20 million different people and it's a real global sport. And right now the countries that are dominating the sport of squash are countries that don't traditionally win a lot of sports in the Olympics, like Egypt and Pakistan and those types of countries, and it would be nice for them. They've had the sport of squash for 200 years. But truly right now, in the last tournament, I think the eight quarterfinalists, eight people were from eight different countries.

SIMON: Is it a good television sport?

POWER: That just depends on budget. If you put in what you put in to do a baseball game or a basketball game or a hockey game, you're going to get that back. Right now, it's like bringing your mom's Handycam to Madison Square Garden right now, the way they produce it.

SIMON: Don't they play it with glass walls in some places?

POWER: Yeah, so it's one-way glass walls. They put some of the tournaments at the foot of the pyramids or in Grand Central Station. They can basically put this four-wall glass court in some really spectacular settings. And a lot of people play squash as a lifetime sport, so there's, you know, 20 million people that play squash into their 60s. So there's a fanatical fan base and where a lot of the other sports - you wouldn't do something like wrestling recreationally, unless you're really sort of pissed off at your brother. But...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: A final, scholarly question, Mr. Power, because after all, this is NPR and we have a veneer of scholarliness. But is it true squash began in debtors prison?

POWER: Yeah, started by the British officers in the prisons, I think, of India, Pakistan, you know, a couple hundred years ago and has a long history and it's a phenomenal sport.

SIMON: Did it begin with British officers playing in jail cells?

POWER: Yeah, the prison guards, they started up there and I guess some of the prisoners would get involved later on. But it started with the British officers sort of just bored watching the prisoners and they started hitting the ball up in this sort of three-wall or four-wall sort of space and they started putting lines and boundaries and came up with the rules, and started taking off in the prisons in British India and, you know, most of the sports originated from the British.

SIMON: Jonathan Power, the world's former number one squash player. Thanks very much for being with us.

POWER: Pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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