Packed and exuberant crowds throughout the 11 days of action in the 2014 Commonwealth Games – a significant percentage of whom were watching Squash action for the first time – characterised an overwhelming success for the sport at Glasgow 2014.
An estimated 35,000 followed five days of singles action and six days of doubles action on a spectacular state-of-the-artASB ShowGlassCourt at the Scotstoun Sports Campus in Scotland’s largest city.
Nick Matthew (England) and Nicol David (Malaysia) made history by becoming the first champions to retain their gold medals in the singles events – then India also claimed a place in squash history by securing the country’s first ever Games medal when Joshana Chinappa & Dipika Pallikal won the Women’s Doubles gold against the odds.
Veteran David Palmer rounded off the entire Games programme by clinching double gold for Australia after winning the Men’s & Mixed Doubles titles (with Cameron Pilley and Rachael Grinham, respectively).
Palmer’s incredible success not only took his Games medal tally to a record eight since 2002 – and the 38-year-old’s first gold – but also lifted Australia to the top of the Squash medals table, ahead of second-placed England who boasted a best-ever nine medals, including a clean sweep of the silvers!
“Squash is proud of its record of innovation and presentation, and the Commonwealth Games organisers in Glasgow have continued to raise the bar in this area,” exclaimed World Squash Federation President N Ramachandran. “Superb staging, the most wonderful atmosphere from enormous numbers of spectators and great broadcast.
“We salute and thank the players, referees, the audience and the organisers – everybody involved who has made the Games so memorable.”
In addition to the record spectator attendances and worldwide TV output, BBC TV also revealed that a peak domestic television audience of one million viewers tuned in to BBC1 to watch Matthew and David claim gold in the singles finals.
Some 12 hours after being the Team England flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony – one of four squash players to perform such a high-profile role – Nick Matthew had first-hand experience of the sensational Scotstoun crowd.
“It was just so good to come out to such an amazing response – it’s more like a finals crowd than a first round,” said the world No2. “I’ve had a long career and played in some amazing venues, but never experienced a first round crowd like that.”
Men’s singles silver medallist James Willstrop added: “The atmosphere here was unbelievable. It’s great for the game and it’s wonderful to be involved – I’m trying to soak up every minute.
“It doesn’t come any better than this – it’s quite exceptional what Glasgow has been doing.”
Doubles was also a huge success, benefitting from the wider court and lowered tin (down to 33mm / 13″) since the last Games in Delhi. Matches were shorter and more vibrant, with exciting and entertaining encounters on the Scotstoun new legacy courts and the showcourt.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact the squash here has had on the general public, as opposed to the die-hard fans,” said BBC TV commentator Sue Wright, winner of one of England’s first Commonwealth Games squash gold medals in 1998.
“I have been surprised at how exciting the Doubles has been. The lower tin and extra court width has helped turn it into an integral part of the squash format.”
One enthusiastic spectator in Glasgow was Prince Albert of Monaco: “Squash is a great sport – it’s made major progress in the last few years. It’s much more spectator-friendly,” said the IOC Member. “This has been a great showcase for the sport, the level of play was outstanding.”
Sir Matthew Pinsent, the four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist who was in Glasgow as a BBC TV presenter added: “Squash is one of my favourite Commonwealth sports – I love it. It’s a great spectacle.
“It’s a unique sport in that, if you sit behind the front wall, is played at you – and I can’t think of another sport like that. The ball comes to you at such speed.”
Event MC Alan Thatcher said: “The success of the squash competitions provided an outstanding and invaluable promotion for the sport. The standard of play in the men’s and women’s singles was incredibly high, and the new format for the doubles is a major breakthrough for squash.
“I would love to see the national federations working with court manufacturers to encourage clubs to build doubles courts using these dimensions. The wider court and the lower tin produced a much more entertaining version of the sport.
“Nearly every squash club in the USA has a doubles court and I would love to see a campaign to achieve the same throughout the UK and beyond.”
Australian squash legend Sarah Fitz-Gerald, the five-time world champion in Glasgow as the Australian team coach, said: “Scotland and Glasgow: Thanks for a wonderful and successful Commonwealth Games. The atmosphere was awesome, the squash was great, bagpipes terrific and the court looked fantastic.
“Squash received an enormous amount of attention from dignitaries, officials and public. As well as four flag-bearers. Let’s hope all this raises the sport’s profile further as we chase the elusive entry into the Olympics Games.”
Twitter was a platform from which numerous sports luminaries expressed their new-found enthusiasm for Squash: “Squash has always been a great sport to play, and these days it’s very good to watch. Should be an Olympic sport,” tweeted England football hero Gary Lineker.
Olympic decathlon gold medallist Daley Thompson said: “Women’s squash final. Nicol & Laura both warriors and brilliant ambassadors for the game. The Olympics needs Nicol, Laura, Nick, James – in fact Squash”
Respected BBC Radio sports journalist Mark Pougatch proclaimed: “Saw squash in Kuala Lumpur games in 98. Said it should be in the Olympics then and say the same now. More deserving than some who are….”
The Daily Express newspaper wrote: “Squash has been one of the real finds of these Games from a TV perspective with a number of high-quality matches and performances.”