CHENNAI: Squash in India is set for a major revamp. After a mixed 2018 where foreign coach Ashraf el Karagui made a tumultuous exit before India won multiple medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, the Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) has plans to change the functioning of the sport and the way people look at it.
To start off, there won’t be any permanent foreign coaches this year. Instead, the SRFI is planning for short-term appointments before major tournaments.
The federation is in talks with Amir Wagih of Egypt, a former world champion and coach of the Egypt national team, and David Palmer of Australia, who is currently the head coach at Cornell University in New York. The SRFI is also planning to collaborate with one of the high-performance coaches from England Squash.
“These are just plans that we have submitted to the government along with the Annual Calendar for Training and Competitions (ACTC) budget. The plan is to rope in these coaches a couple of weeks or maybe a month before a tournament. We are targetting the Asian Individual Championships in May and the World Men’s Team Championships in December,” national coach Cyrus Poncha told this newspaper on the sidelines of the ISA junior circuit I Open.
More PSA events
The SRFI is also looking at hosting 12 Professional Squash Association (PSA) tournaments in India for men and women starting this year. Earlier, an average of two per year was held in the country. Since playing in PSAs is the only way to increase rankings, the ‘Play in India’ scheme will aid players other than Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa — the only Indians in the top 20 — to go up the ladder. It will also help save from the annual budget for players to travel abroad for such events. “We want to host these tournaments in different categories at the same time when other countries are also hosting the events. That way, not all top players will register in India. Also, as hosts, some of our lower-ranked players can get a wild card or invitational entry,” national development officer Harish Prasad said.
There is an added advantage of hosting multiple PSAs, according to Harish. Senior players require sparring partners and usually, they are paid to play in major tournaments. Last year, the SRFI invited three foreign sparring partners.
“Since players from abroad will come down for the PSAs, it’s a case of convincing them to extend their stay to help our athletes,” Harish added. As far as the juniors are concerned, the SRFI will request players like Joshna, Saurav and Dipika Pallikal to be their sparring partners. The federation will also pay them Rs 25,000 per week to do so.
The SRFI is also planning to increase the number of national-level tournaments. Last year, 24 events, junior and senior combined, were held in 13 cities. The plan is to increase it to 35 in 17 cities. While these are the proposed changes for players, the federation is also keeping in mind the referees and coaches. Four clinics for referees will be conducted. For coaches, four camps will be organised at different levels, with facilitators from abroad to guide them.
“India has 153 WSA certified Level 1 coaches. Thirteen have done Level 2. Cyrus is the only Level 3 coach. Many Level 1 coaches are appointed in colleges and other institutions across the country. We are not able to keep track of what they have achieved. For these coaching camps, we are planning to invite current players who wish to give something back to the game,” Harish said.