US Open Champions - Where are the Americans?
Mohamed Elshorbagy, Eygpt - Nicol David, Malaysia - Photo: Steve Cubbins
This year both the Delaware Investments US Open Squash Championships and the UnitedHealthcare United States Open Racquetball Championships had non-American champions.
Alvaro Beltran/Mexico, Kane Waselenchuk/Canada, Maria Jose Vargas/Bolivia, Paola Longoria/Mexico
Though this is a deeply entrenched and not uncommon situation on the squash side, the last few years saw racquetball’s biggest prize being taken by non-Americans. And for the first time in history, there were no Americans holding prizes for First or Second Place in both the Men’s and Women’s pro draws. Racquetball, which has historically been an American sport, has over the past few years begun to produce serious professional players outside of the United States. Racquetball is growing in popularity in Mexico and South America. This represents that growth. (An interesting note, Kane has won the US Open so many times, they played the Canadian National Anthem for him.)
On the Squash side, the history has been, typically, the US Open is won by non-Americans. In Squash, the US struggles to produce top tier professional Squash players. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but mostly it’s a numbers game. As it is with racquetball, in terms of really good players who can actually afford to pursue the sport full time. US Squash seems to rely on an excuse that basically blames the transition from hardball to softball. (The hardball game is played using a harder rubber ball which plays faster, and on a smaller court for singles play, or a much larger court for doubles play. ) Read: A blog entry on DailySquashReport.com
Players in the US.
Racquetball (US) 4, 357,000 participants - core players 2,448,000*
Squash (US) 1,112,000 participants - core players 387,000*
Though we don’t have hard numbers, we’ve heard numbers worldwide have gone as high as 14 million participants for racquetball, which we think wildly optimistic. For squash, hard numbers for worldwide participants are indicated at around 20 million*.
The International Racquetball Federation lists 103 countries that are members, though the numbers of it’s constituents that actively participate and have funded programs is probably a much smaller number. The World Squash Organization probably has harder figures than ours, which are 175 countries (where it is played)* - 127 national federations*
Looking at the US Collegiate scene, Squash has a more solid core than does racquetball, which is probably why Squash manages to raise more money for professional events and social engagement programming here in the States than racquetball has been able to. We admit, this is purely speculation on our part, but we feel pretty confident in saying this.
But this observation is less about numbers and more about pointing to both US Opens looking at who the winners are and saying, “This is noticeable.”
For American squash, it's a not-so-good thing. For racquetball in America, it's a good thing.
* 2012 SGMA Sports Marketing Survey - Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association