Monday, July 27, 2015

LOWER TIN = LOWER QUALITY?



The PSA recently announced that they will be conducting a four month trial into lowering the height of the tin for women’s professional tour events, aligning it with the men’s. Up until now, the women have been playing with 19 inch tins – the same height as what we do here at the DAC - the professional men play with 17 inch tins.

A lower tin encourages more attacking squash, players can risk going short more often. The men’s game has proven a lower tin makes for more exciting matches, the game is faster and more dynamic than ever before. It also shortened the average length of the contests, which together with the change in scoring to 11 points per game (from 15) was a positive thing - because beforehand, match times were consistently well over an hour, tournaments dragged on, and spectators could only watch so much. But is this the right strategy for the women’s game?

One of the arguments bought up against lowering the tin had to do with the length of the matches. In fact, it was even suggested that raising the tin for women’s’ squash should be a consideration, not lowering it. At the recent Pan-Am Games (using a 19 inch tin), every match in the women’s bracket was considerably one-sided. There were 14 matches total, the longest being 30 minutes, four of them 20 minutes or shorter, only 2 matches were 3-1 as opposed to 3-0, of the 44 total games that were played, 27 of them had a score line of 11-5 or lower, and the average match length was 23.7 minutes. (1 match on the draw sheet did not have a time listed). The final took 22 minutes. That’s hardly a stellar report card from a sport that boasts to be one of the more grueling in the world.

The men on the other hand averaged 47 minutes per match, the longest was the final at 88 minutes (4 games only), the shortest 17 minutes. Seven of the 15 matches went to 4 or 5 games. That certainly seems a lot more acceptable and viewer friendly.

Amanda Sohby with her gold medal haul.
What I think the stats above indicate is simply the mismatches in the women’s draw for an event such as the Pan-Am’s The USA women dominated the event. American Amanda Sohby won the gold medal. She is ranked 10 in the world. She beat compatriot Olivia Blatchford in the final – ranked 38 in the world. Amanda’s quarter final opponent is ranked 87 in the world. Olivia’s quarter final opponent isn’t even on the ranking. With disparities such as these – and there were many of them – no wonder the matches were done so quickly.

The match-time argument against lowering the tin was based solely on the Pan-Am’s results. A non-world ranking event that pitted ‘no names’ against a small sample of world ranked players. Not exactly a wide spread selection of women’s tournaments to make such an assertion regarding the height of the tin. So I went back to look over at some major women’s events in the past 12 months to see if in fact their matches were following a similar trend to the Pan-Am’s. (On occasion, some matches did not have a time listed. They are not counted in the calculations.)

1.      U.S Open from Oct 9-18, 2014.
Women averaged 42.8 minutes a match. Longest match was 76 minutes – a first round encounter. Shortest match was 26 minutes. That’s 3 minutes longer than the Pan-Am average. Final was 41 minutes and was only 3-0. Two of those games were 12-10.

The men averaged 54 minutes here. This event had equal draw size and prize money for men and women. The US Open plays no favorites. Longest match – 95 minutes (first round) and shortest was 27 minutes. The final was only 5 minutes longer than the women’s final at 46 minutes – it was 3-1. Had the women’s final gone to 4 games, it would no doubt have been longer then the men’s.

2.      Women’s World Championship from Dec 12-20, 2014.
Average match time was 47 minutes. The final was 66 minutes, the longest recorded match of the event was 80 minutes which was in the first round. The shortest match was 24 minutes – still longer than the Pan-Am average.

Men’s World Championship from Nov 13-21, 2014
Average match length was 49 minutes. Just 2 minutes longer than the women’s. The men had a 64 draw to the women’s 32, so they did have a more matches to play. The longest match of the event was 99 minutes – also in the first round. The final took 90 minutes. The shortest match was technically 8 minutes long, but that was because of an injury, otherwise it was 24 minutes – same as the women’s.

3.      Tournament of Champions from Jan 14-024, 2015.
Women’s average match time was 46.8 minutes. Longest match was 76 minutes in the semi final. Shortest match was 23 minutes. Same as the Pan-Am average. The final was four games and took 48 minutes.

For the men, the average time was significantly higher. At 65.2 minutes a match, also take into consideration the bigger draw – 32 as opposed to 16 for the women. The longest match here took 121 minutes (Miguel Rodriguez!) and the shortest took 31 minutes. The men exhausted themselves for this event. 16 of the 31 matches took over hour. The final was 83 minutes.

4.      Windy City Open from Feb 27 – Mar 4, 2015
Like the US Open, the draw sizes and prize money for both men and women are the same. The women averaged 41 minutes a match here. The longest match was 65 minutes, the shortest 22 minutes. The final was 3-1 in 57 minutes.

The men had an average of 56.4 minutes. Longest match was 101 minutes and the shortest was 23 minutes (not counting a 9 minute shortened match due to injury). The final was a 3-0, 62 minute encounter.

5.      British Open from May 9-17, 2015
The women averaged 45 minutes a match. Longest encounter was a 77 minute semi final, the shortest was 24 minutes. The final was 51 minutes for 4 games. Interestingly, the average length of the quarter finals were longer than the men’s quarters, and the semi finals were just about the same.

The men’s average was 54.3 minutes. The final was the longest match at 93 minutes, 11-5 in the 5th result. The shortest was 28 minutes if you don’t count a 26 minute first round match that was cut short with an injury.

6.      Alexandria International from 4-10 July, 2015
This was a women’s only event. Average match time was 41 minutes. 65 minutes was the longest match from the semi final and the shortest match was just 20 minutes. 14 of the 31 matches were 3-1 or 3-2.

Obviously this is hardly a scientific study, but it does appear that the trend for the average length of women’s matches in these major events hovers between 40-50 minutes. As expected, the men’s matches average longer, although with exception to the Tournament of Champions, not significantly so. I also went through a handful of random smaller women’s events on the calendar and many of these averages dropped considerably. The lowest average I found was 26.8 minutes per match (6 of 15 matches were under 20 minutes), and quite a few others that were around 30-35 minutes, the highest – 49 – seemed to be an anomaly. Nothing else I found came close to that.

Conclusion? If you take for a fact the lowering the height of the tin will shorten the matches on average (which is the general consensus), maybe it is not a good idea for the women to go there… yet. What do you think the reaction would be if the average match time for major events started to get below 40 minutes, and for the smaller tournaments, consistently below 30? Will sponsors be interested in pouring money into contests that are finished in the same time as half an inning of baseball, or where the action takes less time to watch than the commercials that support it? Should a game of squash take less time than a game (not set) of tennis?

I think raising the tin is out of the question – and I’m not sure the person who did propose that was being completely serious – but lowering it may damage the women’s game more than help it. This also got me thinking in regards to the recent push of trying to get equal prize money for women. With the risk of sounding utterly misogynistic, if the women deserve to be paid the same then shouldn’t the workload be similar – same draw sizes, similar match times. Right now, the disparity between the men’s and women’s average isn’t overly substantial in major events, but if it gets to a point where the men are on court significantly longer than their counterparts, then in the end women would actually be earning a lot more (per hour)… fair? Unquestionably you cannot predict the length of any match, but men’s matches – even with the lower tin – are already longer than the women’s. Lowering the women’s tin, I fear the difference would be too pronounced.



In short, based on the above data. I believe the tin should remain where it is. For now. The women’s game is improving – especially with the rise of some of these young stars like Raneem El Welily, Camille Serme, Nouran Gohar, and Amanda Sohby just to name a few. It might not be too far away when the need to lower the tin would make more sense, until then maybe the PSA shouldn’t be rushing into this all in the name of equality.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

HERE WE GO AGAIN



As if the absurdity of the 2020 Olympic bidding process wasn’t farcical enough, it appears that the IOC has decided that yes, they actually should insert another sport or two into the program. Or maybe they’ll choose three? Right now, no one, it seems, knows how many will be added. Remember back in September of 2013, the IOC voted wrestling to be the “new” sport to the agenda? Irrelevant was the fact that wrestling had indeed been a part of the Games since its inception, was voted off the list just 6 months prior, only to be miraculously reinstated. The expensive and time consuming bidding process that squash (and all the other sports) went through vying for that spot was nothing more than an unadulterated fool’s errand and a colossal waste of effort.

So this is good news for squash, right? Okay, sure. The door has once again been left slightly ajar and the golden carrot can be seen dangling somewhere in the distance. But rather than ask the 2 sports that missed out behind wrestling to present their case anew – or simply add these sports in straight away since they ended up second and third in the original bidding - the IOC has opened up the spots to any and all. And, it seems, we have just a hysterically majestic and intriguing line up of potential Olympic candidates! There are 26 – yes, 26 – aspiring contenders. And squash has to go through the entire bidding process all over again.

Let’s go through this delectable list, shall we?

Let’s also keep in mind that the IOC want sports included that “serve as a driving force to promote the Olympic movement and its values, with a focus on youth appeal". Also vital is the fact that it has to draw local interest. The 2020 Games are in Tokyo, Japan. So the new sport(s) have to "engage the Japanese population and new audiences worldwide, reflecting the Tokyo 2020 Games vision.” With that in mind, should squash even waste it’s time bidding?

Baseball and softball are probably a guarantee to get included.  Baseball is huge in Japan (and the United States which hardly hurts its cause). It’s tough to argue against including it, except for the fact that the best players in the world – which is the MLB - wouldn’t waste their time from their season to do it, and the sport is littered with drug cheats. But, the sport has been Olympic before, so clearly the IOC doesn’t care about that.
Sumo Wrestling. Beautiful.

Other sports that will probably have a better chance than squash based on the above mantra would include karate and wushu (which is another martial art) and, believe it or not: sumo wrestling. Youth appeal? Absolutely! What other sport can you eat yourself to morbid obesity and still be considered an athlete? Kids these days would be all over that concept and hitting the fast food restaurants and donut shops. Super size? Of course!

Then there are the sports that I actually had to google to figure out what they are. I am fully aware that squash is not a house hold name in America. And more people than not look at me cross-eyed when I try to explain what I do for a living. But, squash is rather well known outside of the USA boundaries, and I consider myself rather well travelled having lived on 4 continents. Not even having heard of these sports before makes we wonder just how international there are. These include:

Air Sports. This apparently is an offshoot of gymnastics. Consists of trampoline; synchronized trampoline; power tumbling and double mini. Doubles mini is where they sprint to a mini trampoline, jump high in the air while they do summersaults, then jump onto a second mini trampoline to repeat the act for the dismount. Similar to vaulting but without the horse in the middle. Should this be even considered as a separate sport since it basically is gymnastics?

Floorball. This is field (or ice) hockey on a hard floor surface using a plastic ball and sticks. Is this for people who can’t skate or have allergies to grass?

Korfball
Korfball. This is a hybrid of basketball and netball. (If you aren’t familiar with netball, it’s a ‘women’s’ version of basketball that is popular in commonwealth countries.) Interestingly, the teams here are mixed. Would that help their bid? No dribbling allowed – you have to stand still (or pivot) if you possess the ball and pass or shoot - the nets are about 15 feet from the back sidelines so you can shoot baskets from behind the net as well.

Underwater Sports. This one is so preposterous its comical. Disciplines here include:
Apnoea. Basically it means holding your breath underwater for a period of time. Like when we were kids at the local swimming pool testing ourselves against our friends. That being said, I hardly think this is a sport one should be promoting to children… “Welcome to the junior Apnoea Championships…. First up is little Tommy… Oh no, he just drowned himself…
Aquathlon: Wrestling in the water.
Finswimming: Seems to be racing in or on the water wearing a monofin or two fins.
Underwater Hockey: self explanatory I guess. Their own website claims it is played on over 20 countries worldwide. Squash is played in over 175.
Orienteering. Yes, underwater. Athletes swim from specified point to point with the use of a compass and distance meter.
Underwater rugby. Scrums must fun here. There were 13 countries involved the last world championships
Spear Fishing. Surely the IOC won’t allow the killing of innocent fish!
Sport Diving. Didn’t quite understand this one, but athletes compete in a variety of tasks underwater such as obstacle course and finding objects… oh boy.
Visual. This is photography underwater. Grab your water proof cell phones everybody… How can photography be considered a sport?
Target Shooting. According to the website, not much equipment is needed to do this. Who doesn’t have a diving mask, snorkel, a pair of fins, diving or snorkeling suit, weight-belt, a pair of gloves, mass-produced spear-gun (elastic or hydro-pneumatic), a silhouette and, of course, a target lying in their basement?
As I was typing this, I also wondered that since all of these events happen under the water, how would anybody be to go the venue and watch? Will the pools all be made of glass?

Bowls.
And here are the next list of sports that we mostly will recognize, but as squash players, cannot possible fathom they have a better chance than us to get in: Water skiing; Wakeboarding; Racquetball; Flying Disc (Ultimate Frisbee); Orienteering; Dance Sport; Bowling; Bowls (Curling on grass) Netball; Sport Climbing; Polo; Surfing; Roller Sports; and American Football. I don’t even know why American Football would want to be in the Olympics. Does any other country play it? Should there even be a sport in the Olympics that has the word “American” in it? Doesn’t that give the impression that the Americans, I don’t know, would dominate this one? They could send the Grosse Pointe South High School team and still win gold. Or the Detroit Lions.

And then there are the “sports” that simply aren’t sports. How these are even classified as sports is a real mind-boggler:

Bridge. A card game? Holy retirement home, Batman. Could it be that we see 90 year old Olympians in the future? … “..and we come to the end of the days play since it’s 4.30pm and it’s way past the athlete’s bedtime…”

Chess. A board game? … What’s next? Monopoly? Clue? Trivial Pursuit? Twister?

And last and by all means least, my all time favorite candidate: Tug of War. Incredibly, Tug of War used to be an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. Obviously I know what this is, but I just had to look up some highlights and see just how riveting it is to watch. If you don’t mind wasting 4 minutes of your life, here is the UK Tug of War Championships 2013 in the600kg division:
Action a plenty. Mesmerizing. Enchanting.

It is a diverse list and I’m sure the IOC will have its work cut out to narrow the field on June 22. Then the shortlist will make another presentation on September 30 with a final decision on which sport(s) make the cut on August 2016, shortly before the Rio Olympics.

Even though I am poking fun at many of the sports here, I am sure each and every one of them requires specific skills and plenty of hard work to excel at it. But surely they must realize that their chances of Olympic inclusion would be infinitesimal. Is their application just to get the IOC to see they are on the radar and want publicity?

I’m sure squash will once again make the short list, but considering 2020 is in Tokyo, squash does not have any appeal to the host country. We’ll make the bid, no doubt do a splendid job, meet all the requirements and criteria, spend a bucket load of money, get a little sniff of the prize to tantalize our senses, and then get unceremoniously rejected.

And, most of all, I hope I’m completely wrong.

Search This Blog

Loading...