Face of inspiration, squash star Siyoli the bridge over troubled Waters

Published: 01st October 2016 09:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st October 2016 09:38 AM   |  A+A-


Siyoli Waters

By Express News Service

MUMBAI: There is more than one reason why Siyoli Waters stands out. She is a 33-year-old surviving in a young sport. She is also one of the few black players thriving in the predominantly white sport of squash.
“I think squash needs to work hard at breaking this stereotype that it’s an old, white man’s sport,” said Waters after her first round match at the $35,000 Women’s Otters International in Mumbai. Born in 1983 in the South African city of East London, she has seen up close how racial divide affected everyday life.
“My parents were teachers,” she recalls. “My dad had studied law at university but at that time, could not practice it. For educated people, the only profession open to our people was teaching.”
Even though there was sufficient money for the family of five, there were no luxuries. Waters was a hockey and tennis player during her schooldays but with finances tight, she could not afford the best of equipment or private coaching. She started playing squash by 14, but turned pro only in 2009, at the relatively late age of 26.
“In tennis, there were a lot of roadblocks for coloured people. They would find ways to demean us,” she says. “Plus, the access to tennis courts or hockey field was not easy. I took up squash mainly because we had a court in school, open to everyone. I could practise on my own. Also, squash in South Africa is better integrated than any other sport.”
Waters first knew there was a professional circuit while at university, as two of her classmates had a ranking on the women’s pro circuit. She completed a degree in chemistry and then decided to pursue a professional career in sport.
“I have a lot of catching up to do,” says Waters, currently ranked 54. She had gone as high as 28 in 2013. “But then I decided not to stress myself because a lot of the girls I was playing with had a lot more exposure to the world level than me. I decided I would just pretend I was a teenager and worked hard at it.”
The South African also feels a responsibility towards the sport, and how it can help alleviate the underprivileged in her country. “I know I am doing it for a reason because there has always been the undercurrent of racial divide. South Africa Squash is trying its best to make the sport more integrated, we have a lot of programmes for these kids and I am the face of it. A lot of people think I should concentrate on my career, and I understand that point of view. But when I lift a trophy, I don’t want it only to be for me.”

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