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WSF President Jacques Fontaine Issues Update on COVID-19

The following is an update from WSF President Jacques Fontaine on the impact of COVID-19 on squash.

The entire world has been going through a crisis of an unprecedented scale and unfortunately the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is far from being over. While the level of uncertainty remains very high the different governments are now putting their efforts into the economic recovery to avoid the surge of a deeper crisis and its inevitable consequences to the population. It seems that we are starting to see the end of the tunnel, but the world is not emerging from the crisis at a similar pace.

As you have discovered, this effect of this crisis has different characteristics. First of all, the global impact of the pandemic on the world and its political and economic ramifications have been unseen in the modern era. Secondly, the reach of this crisis is unprecedented as more than half of the entire worldwide population has been locked down for several weeks with governments taking the same decision in a matter of days. Lastly, the duration of this pandemic is unknown, and it seems very unlikely a vaccine will be available on a large scale before the end of 2020.

Moreover, the duration of the crisis seems unpredictable as experts keep explaining a second wave is inevitable this fall. The recent 2008/2009 crisis took more than two years to recover from and it essentially started as a financial crisis; World War I led to the Great Depression; and a massive Marshall Plan which lasted for more than five years was necessary to recover from World War II. This crisis has no precedent in modern times even if the specialists are desperate to find common trends in our recent history.

As you can imagine, I have been reading numerous articles, and participating in many phone calls with Olympics and non-Olympics IFs. I also participated in several videoconferences, electronic seminars mostly in relation with the Covid-19 impact on sport in general. One essential pattern seems to emerge from these discussions: for the last 20 years, the sporting industry has grown exponentially and generated billions of dollars of revenues. Therefore, with the shutdown of the International sporting calendar some analysis explained the sport sector lost more than $61 billion in less than three months (TV rights, postponement/ cancellation of events, ticketing loss etc.). These figures and the unprecedented rapidity of the fall do not have historical precedents. One critical question for our industry now is our capacity to recover and bounce back in order to maintain our economic independence, which is instrumental to the protection of the values of sport and its self-governance. In a recent letter to all the Olympic movement stakeholders, the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, outlined that “However, for most sports events, as for all sectors of society, things will not be as they were before”.

The governments and central banks have already poured billions of dollars to stimulate the economy and ensure that the unemployment level will not stay at this dramatic level. Each government will follow its own agenda according to its own priorities and the decisions to trim the economic and social impact of the lockdown will greatly vary from one country to another. But something is certain, it will take months and years to just “get back to normal”, not mentioning generating profit for most of the corporations deeply impacted.

It is sufficient to say that our sporting industry is completely reliable on the health of the global economy. Consequently, we should be ready to envisage a new sustainable approach for sports.

Thousands of International events have been postponed or cancelled and most of the International Federations are today reconsidering their budgets accordingly. The financial sources will be strongly solicited and most probably the traditional public financial support might be rerouted to other legitimate priorities. Most probably we will have to envisage a stronger competition between all sporting bodies to ensure a decent level of funding from the private sector.

One of the main consequences of COVID-19 is the concept of “social distancing”, which is currently considered as the best barrier to avoid contamination. This led several international studies to consider squash in the category of a risky sport because of its characteristics. This “assumption” is affecting all types of squash players and all levels of competition.

Consequently, the Board has consulted Dr. Anne Smith, our Chair of the Medical Commission, to review the possibility of producing official WSF Guidelines to support our Members that try to restart squash activities as soon as possible without endangering the health and safety of our players. It is critical to provide your local and health authorities documentation proving squash can be played in compliance with the measures or restrictions imposed by the governments.

We know our activities will not resume in a week which is why we have questioned all the Chairs of the WSF Commissions and members of our Executive Committee to understand their views on the situation and the collective solutions the WSF needs to focus on in the coming weeks and months. Our economic partners have been solicited as well because it goes without saying they are financially suffering from the lock down with some of them experiencing massive drop in their turnover related to their squash activities.

One of the first conclusions clearly indicates that we need to prepare ourselves for a lasting, shaky period of uncertainty.

International travel has been almost entirely stopped. For the travellers who decide to take the plane, they have to follow strict quarantine conditions which prevent the players/athletes from participating in any international events.

Clearly squash’s challenges have a worldwide dimension as this crisis affects our global community. We all feel that our sport could be in great danger but we also know that squash has a real capacity to overcome this crisis if we are confident of the strength and potential of our sport and on the other hand if we can build a new positive mindset for the future

We have to realize that a new framework is necessary to emerge from this crisis stronger. I am convinced we probably have to “reshape” our sport and ensure its full resumption as many squash club owners, National Federations, squash stakeholders all over the world are trying to keep their activities alive.

Squash’s recovery and future must be collectively constructed. The withdrawal will only worsen our capacity to rebound. A lonely recovery exercise is financially and technically unable to achieve what is at stake today. All our squash partners (of today and tomorrow) and the players are committed to show the unrivalled uniqueness of squash, but we should also use this particular period to think about new offer by all means.

The WSF and PSA are the two entities which govern our sport with their specifics. They are the pillars of the squash world landscape and I believe our strengthened relationship will enable us to collectively find the appropriate solutions for our sport. Several joint initiatives are currently under discussion to tackle all the challenges this coronavirus has brought to our sport and I’m confident squash will strongly benefit from this common willingness to partner and to put all efforts into the development of our sport from grass roots to the elite level.

Innovation, empowerment and sustainability are the values that should lead our new thinking. The recovery phase will take time, but our sport has everything in its hands to emerge stronger than ever from this crisis. I am fully aware of the ongoing difficulties of many of our Members however nobody will look after our sport except us and we have no option but to encourage a strong sense of solidarity within our community and consider innovation as the future backbone of our sport.

The post coronavirus world will tangibly need squash and it is our role and our duty to define how it should look with the support and for the benefit of our global squash community.



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