When I read this New York Times article, I'm continuously brought in thought to what has happened to racquetball over the last 10 years. Spending so much time over this decade looking at the pro tours, following the sport's pains in growth, watching as professionals continue to balance real-life jobs while finding ways to fund their professional racquetball dreams, I'm confident that I am not alone in seeing how Mexico has taken a real grasp of top-tier racquetball. (Along with a seeing as a couple of South American countries having the ingredients to produce relative explosive growth.) So, this article just keeps pinging with parallels as well as dynamic differences in goals that spur growth.
• This article mentions a 1996 "breakout" performance by a young Egyptian player at the first major squash event held in view of the Great Pyramids of Giza. I instantly think of Conrado Moscoso's win at the American Iris Open Bolivia in Cochobamba, Bolivia. The first Grand Slam ever held in that country. Moscoso was instantly thrust into the sporting light in Bolivia. I recognize that there are major differences in how Egypt already had notable professional players. But for racquetball in Bolivia, there is a player that is instantly accessible to sporting minded youth. Similar to what is the case in Egypt where Squash is the second most prestigious sport after Soccer, Racquetball is second to Soccer in Bolivia. (From what I was told.) And to further this parallel, Moscoso flew through the draw at this year's US Open to make the Men's Pro Final. (Interesting note: that young Egyptian player who made that splash retired 5 years later after being the victim of violence, ended up recording an album of pop songs and starred in a movie... a romantic comedy. This article is an interesting read.)
Bolivian player Conrado Moscoso
• The world class, dominant growth in Egypt is somewhat attributed to the interest prestigious US colleges had in Egyptian players. This produced a tangible reason to pursue Squash as a junior. Since those elite players are mostly "from a small, somewhat privileged slice of society that is westernized" this seems like something that is not so parallel in racquetball. There aren't many collages that give scholarships for racquetball, maybe only one? Not to mention colleges that list racquetball as a varsity sport or NCAA sport. (I haven't been keeping up on this, so I'm not quite sure.) I do recall my time escorting Middlebury College's Squash team to University of Pennsylvania for the College Squash Association's National Championships. (Middlebury's team consisted of a women's team that was classified Varsity and a men's team that had "Club" status... title 9 played a role.) I clearly remember some Egyptian players from Trinity and other ivy league schools looking like they were in their mid to late 20's. All this to say, growth in these countries won't be facilitated by educational opportunities.
• "...the most obvious part of Egyptian exceptionalism: concentrated quality." This makes me instantly look to Mexico, where they have a number of concentrated clubs where top-level players play each other. I touched on this in a recent blog post, Last Of A Kind, where I elude to a similar thought... "camp feel", to quote myself. Mexico's consistently improving results on the pro tours through the last decade is undeniable.
• The article mentions more people, by far, play Squash in the United States than in Egypt. I haven't been privy to sports manufacturing numbers in a while but I would still bet that the US still significantly outnumbers Mexico in terms of the overall number of people playing racquetball. And similarly to Squash, on a national level Racquetball has some truly, high-profile athletes with celebrity status. The Egyptian players hobnob with politicians, the wealthy as well as appear regularly in national media. Case in point for racquetball; Paola Longoria, who is in the midst of a completely dominant run on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour. The difference here being Racquetball isn't the second or even the third most popular sport in Mexico. (At least I highly doubt it is.)
Mexico's Paola Longoria
While I'm at this, I'll state an opinion on possibility on the men's side. The male professional racquetball players in Mexico get flashes of media coverage and is primed to have a chance to get blasted because of what is happening on the International Racquetball Tour. I think the possibility is brewing with all the elements of a huge sporting news story in Mexico regarding Kane Waselenchuk. He similarly is just so comprehensively dominating racquetball, that if he had just one "off" day in a draw at a Grand Slam or even a Tier 1, there is more of a chance that a Mexican player would be on the court at that particular time. A chance win over Kane would explode in that particular country's media cycle. (And interesting... to me anyway, it would be bigger in Mexico and indirectly facilitated by what Paola has already done media-wise in Mexico.)
Some things in the sport of Racquetball have significantly changed over the last few years regarding the engagement and results by Mexican and South American players on the pro tours, even the number of pro tours has changed with the coming and going of the World Racquetball Tour. Not sure RKT has international aspirations, doubt it ever will as long as players continue to see the path to growth playing on the IRT and LPRT. Reading this article instantly puts some things in perspective for me. I'm not looking at the International Racquetball Federation here, and I recognize those involved with the IRF can read this article and spot parallels and differences way more clearly than I can. But I did enjoy recognizing some interesting similarities as well as some stark differences.
I won't talk about money. It would be an all together different post.