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Canadian squash players thrilled that sport set to be added to 2028 Olympic program

Canadian squash player Spring Ma couldn't contain her excitement after opening a recent email from the Professional Squash Association with a "Breaking News" subject line.

Canadian squash player Spring Ma couldn't contain her excitement after opening a recent email from the Professional Squash Association with a "Breaking News" subject line.

The message said squash was tabbed to finally become an Olympic sport in 2028 at the Los Angeles Games.

"The morning that I saw it, I screamed," Ma said.

Formal International Olympic Committee approval is expected Monday.

Ma, the Canadian under-17 champion, recalled racing into her twin sister Ocean's room to wake her up with the exciting news.

"At first, I couldn't believe my ears," said Ocean, the reigning U19 national champion.

The 16-year-old sisters, who live in Richmond, B.C., plan to play at the U.S. collegiate level once they graduate from high school.

"It's strong motivation to just work hard and maybe get close to being an Olympian," Ocean said.

The Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and world championships have long been top events on the sport's calendar. Now squash -- long knocking on the door to be included at the Games -- appears set for its Olympic moment.

"It's so incredibly exciting for the sport," said former national team member Stephanie Edmison, who won Pan Am gold in 2011. "I remember just back in my own junior days when squash was trying to get into the Olympics.

"It was the event on every squash player's radar. Like if squash gets into the Olympics, how incredible that would be for their careers and for their own personal goals."

In addition to squash, Los Angeles organizers also proposed lacrosse, cricket, baseball/softball and flag football be added to the 2028 program.

The IOC's executive board is expected to ratify the proposal at its session in Mumbai.

Top-flight squash is regularly played around the world on all-glass showcourts that can be set up almost anywhere and allow spectators to watch from the front, back and sides of the court.

The television/streaming product has improved significantly in recent years. The use of instant replay and point-a-rally scoring have also led to a better product.

"All of these changes that they've made over the years have really been to make it more appealing as an Olympic sport," Edmison said from Toronto.

Honorary IOC member Dick Pound said he thinks squash is a great choice for the Games.

"It's a sport that checks all the boxes that are important these days in international sport," Pound said from Montreal. "It's an equal representation of men and women, it's a sport that requires a lot of effort, it's not expensive."

Pound previously served as secretary of the Canadian Squash Racquets Association (now Squash Canada) and assisted with the drafting of its constitution.

He also helped advise the organization on what he thought was the best path to getting the sport on the Olympic program.

An IOC member for over four decades, Pound said politics between international squash powerbrokers and the IOC were too difficult to overcome in previous years.

"It has been a lot of work by a lot of people, trying to build up the credibility of the leadership, explain the economics of it," Pound said.

Egypt has been a longtime power on the world scene, with Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini topping the current PSA singles rankings.

Five of the top 10 men's spots and the top three on the women's list are occupied by Egyptians.

Hollie Naughton, who grew up in Oakville, Ont., is the highest-ranked Canadian at No. 23. David Baillargeon of Levis, Que., is No. 41 on the men's list.

Edmison said Olympic inclusion will lead to increased exposure, funding opportunities, and heightened motivation among the country's top squash players.

"I suspect it's putting fire under their shoes," Edmison said. "I know it would have for me. I suspect it's just going to propel them with a new goal and direction in mind."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press