Five years ago The Racquetball Blog posted a piece called Racquetball in the Olympics. And since then, questions included in the blog, "why isn't racquetball in the Olympics?" and "how can we get racquetball in the Olympics?" still pop up, especially during Olympics time. Much of what TRB had to say remains relevant even as U.S. dominance in the sport has been overturned. The sport's largest market is still U.S. based even as Mexico, followed by South America, begin taking most of the top spots at international competitions. Racquetball is played in Korea, Japan, Germany... just to name a few other places. The interest in those places is still, relatively, very small but what is promising is that they are very engaged.
I'm of two minds here when it comes to U.S. performance and worldwide interest in racquetball. TRB counts the view that racquetball is primarily seen as a U.S. sport as a negative. As things stand now, I agree and disagree with this statement. I agree only in the perception when I consider how the International Olympic Committee makes these types of decisions. In a previous entries, I followed Squash's bid for the 2020 Olympics and shared thoughts about what that could mean for racquetball. Long story short, Squash made a bid, along with Baseball/Softball, vying for the spot that was temporarily open by Wrestling being tossed because of poor management. Wrestling won the spot back. Baseball/Softball garnered more votes than Squash. The Squash vote was pretty well developed and most of the considerable, financial backing came from the United States. I can't help but intrinsically feel that there is something to TRB's view. And I'll (re)add my views on the IOC's Wrestling dealings. When you read this New York Times article, and consider the 20 million or so Squash players worldwide dwarfs racquetball's worldwide reach, you may be inclined just to stop asking Olympic related racquetball questions. For a while at least.
But wait, isn't Basketball originally an American sport? As I consider this, my mind fast forwards the tie-ins to what just took place in Arizona. USA Racquetball National Doubles finished up this weekend. The U.S. team qualified to participate on international stages, representing our nation. I'll note, what is becoming common knowledge, that national-international competion-wise, the U.S. is no longer dominant in racquetball. Doesn't U.S. Basketball generally dominate Olympic competition? Basketball grew in the U.S. first right? Other nations noticed our game, it's players and how fun and easy it is to play. (Quickly think... racquetball is easier and funner initially to play than Squash, no?) How did basketball attract such worldwide popularity? This is me disagreeing in a thought with TRB's statement. Politics is not the main issue, if it one.
In racquetball, we just have the biggest market. I say "just" because I can't add "And we dominate" to that sentence. Having other countries show success may be good in the eyes of the Olympic politicos.
"Just" is just a word I can't help looking at. We are "just" existing as a sport here in the States. Growth and interest may be something that is in the black when you look at Outdoor racquetball, but traditional racquetball is just that. Traditional. And looking at how thin the U.S. qualifying draws for both men and women at National Doubles, it seems the tradition is dying. (6 teams? 4 teams? Wow.) Last year's Men's champions were bumped in their first match, and I feel in this particular instance, these young guys may have benefitted having to work through some earlier rounds with lesser teams. On the Women's side, last year's runner-ups didn't even participate. Things are sliding the wrong way. To quote TRB, "Of course, I'd be happy to be wrong about this."
I could have gone on with this slant. But frankly, it does no good. And it feels old as does a lot of things in racquetball. It would be good if those charged with growth and prosperity in racquetball do some soul-searching. Remove self-interest for self-interest's sake. (All of us. I include me in this. I know there are things I've had to begin thinking about and doing differently if I want to keep Restrung going. Yet, I'll add, do I even know what I should be letting go of?)
My take and message: I'm bullish. And I still love to play. So I'll keep playing. But if we want to see a bigger brighter future, the sport needs some "catch up with things fast" thinking. Meet the younger, more influential potentials here in this largest racquetball market were their interests are. Where they are intentionally and unintentionally making those interests known. Make racquetball more of an interest for them. Support that interest.