Squash feels the pinch

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BY FORTUNE MBELE

THE Squash Rackets Association of Zimbabwe (SRAZ) says hopes of sending junior players to the World Junior Squash Championships have faded after the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tournament was supposed to be held in Australia next month.

SRAZ chairperson Lucky Mlilo yesterday also said there was no likelihood of any competition being held in the region with the Zimbabwe Squash Open, usually held in August, also in doubt.

“Tournaments such as the World Juniors Squash championship which was supposed to be held in July 2020 in Australia has been cancelled. Our juniors will miss out on participating in this premier junior event. The World Masters championship has also been cancelled. This had been pencilled to take place in Poland in August 2020. Regional tournaments are not likely to take place this year. The traditional Zimbabwe Squash Open that normally attracts players from the region and is held in Bulawayo in August is now doubtful,” Mlilo said.

Mlilo, an international squash referee, said like all other sporting disciplines, squash had not been spared by the vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic as SRAZ is also struggling financially.

“The sport of squash has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic just like all other sports. The challenges we face are financial in nature as we do not get any assistance from the national fiscus. We get assistance from a few corporate partners, but it is not enough for us to pursue our plans for the growth and development of the sport,” he said.

Mlilo bemoaned the state of squash courts in the country.

“All squash courts were shut down when the national lockdown regulations were announced and enacted. There are a number of dilapidated squash courts in a number of schools which need to be renovated. We are still speaking to our corporate friends for assistance. Squash is still not an Olympic sport and, therefore, does not get assistance from the International Olympic Committee,” he said.

Squash has been placed under the medium-risk sporting discipline category. Mlilo said they had been interacting with the Sports ministry and the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) and he was hopeful the sport would be given the nod to resume soon.

“Currently, sports classified as low risk such as golf, darts and swimming have been given the greenlight to resume their activities. It is our hope that squash will also be allowed to resume soon. Squash has been classified as a medium-risk sport. Squash players are currently keeping in shape by exercising at their homes and are ready to resume playing and will adhere to the measures that SRAZ has submitted to SRC,” the national squash chairperson, who is also the vice-president of the Squash Federation of Africa, said.

Mlilo said SFA had been holding a series of online meetings to map the way forward.

“In the past two weeks, SFA hosted two Webinar discussions with squash leaders in Africa and the World Squash Federation executive. The objective was more of a fact-finding mission which was aimed at identifying what the African countries are doing and how they can be assisted in future. Squash has been voted the number one healthiest sport in the world,” Mlilo said.