Today marked a crucial step for the sport of Squash in its bid for inclusion in the Olympic Games from 2016. A team of six Squash representatives made their most important presentation so far to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board in Lausanne, Switzerland.
But it was the youngest member of the group, 13-year-old Hanna Fekede Balcha, who was the star of the show.
Hanna is Ethiopian, but her family moved to San Diego, USA, when she was nine years old to build a new life for themselves. Hanna was accepted to the Surf City Squash program in San Diego which enables students to play Squash alongside their studies. Through a structured programme which promotes hard work, both academically and physically, Hanna has progressed to being a Grade A student as well as Under 15 Urban Squash Champion. Her aspirations are now to push boundaries even further in becoming the first member of her family to go to university but also, at 20 years old, her dream is to represent Ethiopia at the Olympic Games in 2016.
Hanna said: "I was really nervous but enjoyed doing the presentation today. It has been amazing to travel to Switzerland and meet my hero, Nicol (David – world number one squash player). I feel like squash has given me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise that when I was asked to take part in this presentation I jumped at the chance. I would be so happy to compete at the Olympic Games."
Hanna joined the team consisting of IOC Member and World Squash Federation (WSF) Patron, HRH Prince Imran of Malaysia; President of the WSF, N Ramachandran; women’s world No1, Nicol David of Malaysia; former world champion, Frenchman Thierry Lincou; and the up-and-coming South African, Siyoli Lusaseni.
Prince Imran introduced the team, and the Executive Board was then shown a spectacular video, highlighting a number of the key areas that squash believe make them a worthy candidate for inclusion. Among these were the progression the sport has made to be easier and more enjoyable to watch on television; the pledge that the top athletes would compete; the range of nationalities that would be represented (current rankings show there would be 30 different countries involved); and the low cost and accessibility of the sport around the world.
President Ramachandran went on to explain how the WSF has improved the infrastructure of the game, and the way in which the professional organisations work to ensure that Squash is totally ready to be easily incorporated into the Olympic Games. He also talked about the ease and low cost addition of Squash as well as how the sport can easily be hosted in any of the four 2016 bid cities.
The players each outlined why, as athletes, the Olympic Games are so important to them personally, and the many benefits which Squash can bring to people’s lives, and to the Olympics.
The full Squash 2016 bid video can be seen here at: http://www.squash2016.info/video/squash.mov
Ramachandran said: "I am very proud of the presentation we have put together and what we have achieved in getting this far. I believe that we have showed squash to its full potential. I know that we have much to offer the Olympic community, and I hope that the IOC will see the merits of our inclusion.”
For bid information please visit www.squash2016.info
Photo caption: The Squash 2016 Bid Team pose outside the IOC headquarters in Lausanne. (L to R), Thierry Lincou, Nicol David, N Ramachandran, Hanna Fekede Balcha, HRH Prince Imran of Malaysia, Siyoli Lusaseni and Scott Garrett, the Bid Co-ordinator. (Hi-res version of pic available on request)