I am sure that all of you are following the story of badminton at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with the finals of the various tournaments scheduled to start today. No?
For more than twenty years, the World Squash Federation and its predecessor the International Squash Rackets Federation have pursued with a relentless focus the goal of getting squash into the Olympics. The push really began in the early 1980s and accelerated after the IOC recognized squash in 1986—the 1992 Barcelona Games were the first real effort. Ever since then, squash bodies nationally and internationally have clutched at the five tantalizingly close golden rings as we wheel around on the carousel of squash administration.
The Olympics is a worthy goal, and the corporate support, USOC cash and public attention will all be welcomed, but it has taken up too much of our collective time.
Just look at badminton. It is a huge sport. Everyone has heard of the shuttlecock, most people have played it in their backyards and no one confuses it with a vegetable. More than two million people play competitive badminton at least once a month—many more than the 250,000 who play squash. Badminton is the same age as squash (it was invented in England in the 1870s). The International Badminton Federation has 164 member countries (45 sent teams to Beijing); the WSF has either 124 or 118, depending on how you count. As far as making it bigtime, in Barcelona in 1992, it became an Olympic sport (it was a demonstration sport in Munich in 1972; it has been in every Commonwealth Games since 1966 in Kingston).
Yet, let’s look closer. After five Olympic Games, our national badminton association has about 2,700 members, about a fifth of what U.S. Squash has. The worldwide pro tour is worth about $1 million, about a third of our PSA tour. Badminton celebrities? Badminton on television? Badminton in the newspapers and magazines? Badminton in Grand Central?
The analogy is not perfect, but it seems close enough to give credence to the argument that the Olympics is not the golden goose that will instantly transform squash. The Olympics would be a good thing, but it would have a much smaller effect than many people have assumed. So sit back and enjoy watching the shuttlecock fly about at 180 miles per hour across the Beijing University of Technology gym. Oh, you can’t find any coverage on television? Oh, it is on Bravo at three in the morning. Mmmmmm.