This past June, junior Ramit Tandon, Columbia men’s squash star, represented his home country of India in the 2013 World Squash Federation Men’s World Team Championships. By winning his first three matches, Tandon helped send India to the quarterfinals.
Chances are, you didn’t know any of that. In fact, you may not even know what squash is, other than that it’s sort of similar to racquetball. But in fact, squash is popular enough and old enough to be well-known all over the world.
We’re so consumed with the “popular” sports on campus that we forget there are actually other sports here that are worth checking out. Many of these sports, including squash, could easily be at the Olympics but for various reasons they just haven’t found their way onto the program.
Last semester, I got on my soapbox and preached about karate’s potential to be an Olympic sport. At that time, karate was two months away from its bid for the Olympic shortlist, an imperative first step in getting to the Games. Along with roller sports, climbing, wakeboarding, and wushu, karate came up short in the vote, leaving baseball/softball, wrestling, and squash in contention for the last open spot in the 2020 and 2024 Summer Olympic programs.
After wrestling won the spot just over a week ago, I’m left with this question: Will the squashes and karates of the world ever see the Olympics?
There’s a lot more that happens behind the scenes before the International Olympic Committee even gathers to have the inclusion vote. For one, there are the politics—which superstar athletes and Hall of Fame coaches are saying what on behalf of the sport. Then, of course, there’s the money situation. According to Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, the sport’s recovery from near-Olympic elimination cost millions in big publicity campaigns and a larger support system. On the whole, I’d say most of us do not have the ability to affect those areas in trying to increase the popularity of these sports.
So what exactly can we do? It’s as simple as raising awareness.
Think of these sports as those small, low-budget movies that lack big-name starlets and have very little hype. Many of these movies turn out to be very good, but there are only two main ways we would ever know this—if we found out from a friend, or if we decided to take a chance and check them out for ourselves. In both situations, there is one person who decided to give the lesser-known movie a chance to prove its worth.
We need to make an effort to spread the word about the legitimacy of these sports, and that starts by making the effort to come out to the sportng events. My fellow columnists try to convince you to come out to the Lions’ sporting events for a plethora of reasons, year in and year out. I’m asking you to take a small leap of faith and put your sport-related prejudices and biases aside long enough to come out to see a karate practice, a squash match, or anything that wouldn’t necessarily fall under the category of a mainstream sports outing.
Squash has been unsuccessful three times in trying to claim a spot in the Olympics. Still, the sport seems to be moving in the right direction toward Olympic inclusion in the future—perhaps in the next decade. Nationwide, there are now 57 men’s varsity and 42 women’s varsity squash teams—while most are at small colleges, the list also features the University of Virginia, Notre Dame, and Georgetown—and more schools join annually. You have to imagine that once that buzz hits all the big athletic programs across the nation, squash is going to make it to the Games. It will have enough popularity so that influential fans will be motivated to focus on a successful squash bid, instead of sports like baseball and softball.
This is how we can support the causes of these sports—not by pouring money into their PR campaigns, but by building their presences and spreading the word about how interesting, challenging, and competitive they actually are.
Let squash, karate, and the rest of these Olympic-worthy sports prove themselves to you. Go out and give them a chance. And if you like them, spread the word.
Melissa Cheung is a Columbia College junior majoring in English. Closing In runs biweekly.