A new state-of-the-art squash complex opened in Iran earlier this month, with the Iranian Minister for Sport and Youth, Masoud Soltanifar, in attendance as the Persian Gulf Squash Centre opened its doors for the first time.
Located in Birjand, the capital of the Iranian province of South Khorasan, the Persian Gulf Squash Centre contains four brand new squash courts and will act as the squash academic centre of the country.
It is the latest move in an attempt by the Iran Squash Federation to increase participation and playing opportunities in the country as they aim to up the number of registered squash players in Iran from 7,500 to 10,000 within a year.
“In four provinces in the east of Iran, including North Khorasan, Razavi Khorasan, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchestan, there were a total of eight squash courts , which were practically inactive, without any international events and more emphasis on limited domestic and local events in the province,” said Iran Squash Federation Director of International Affairs Masoud Gharehziaeddini.
“The opening of four courts at the Persian Gulf Squash Centre in Birjand, the capital of the South Khorasan province, and the official announcement of the Iranian Squash Federation to choose Birjand as the centre of squash academic activities in the east of our country, means Birjand will quickly become a strategic city in squash and squash 57 as well. This opportunity will be good for sports tourism for the province.
“This strategy, with the opening of a squash complex in Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Razavi province, which is a religious city and very active in the field of tourism and urban areas in our country in the first months of 2021, makes eastern Iran an important centre for activities and events.”
Like many other sports across the world, Iranian squash has been at the mercy of the global COVID-19 pandemic and Gharehziaeddini outlined the ways in which squash players across the country have had to adapt to a new way of living.
“COVID-19 has been a problem for all countries in the world and it has affected Iranian sports and squash as well,” he said.
“Many squash centres were closed for four months to control the disease, and because access to other human beings was different while facing the coronavirus , we shifted our activities to use social media to conduct live interviews.
“We gave the federation permission to produce content on social networks, from virtual competitions to field-related paintings, as well as physical and mental exercises and motivation by the national staff on Instagram.
“We also put out content to help with home exercises and held virtual meetings with the general managers of sports and youth of the provinces and the heads of the squash delegations of 32 provinces of Iran, which were among the main activities of the Iranian squash team.
“During this time, the squash federation transformed its training courses virtually by providing infrastructure and platform online. But the most damaged were the national squash players, who are more active and professional and have lost the chance to participate in many competitions. The Iranian Squash Federation has had to postpone most of its programmes and events until 2021.”
When Iranian life returns to something approaching normality the Iran Squash Federation will turn its attention to growing the country’s player base with a focus on partnering with a number of governmental departments.
“Iran has around 7,500 registered athletes who play squash in the population system of the Ministry of Sports and Youth,” said Gharehziaeddini.
“A strategic plan began in May 2019 with a step-by-step policy and the country has been divided into five areas, wit active individuals being selected in each area.
“The federation then follows the activities and areas and report the achievement and success of the programs on a monthly basis, so that the President of the federation [Masoud Soleimani] can encourage active provinces with facilities and inactive provinces will be pushed more by federation .
“Also, the federation has signed agreements with 25 ministries or organisations which have attracted a large number of people to squash, such as the Ministry of Education in the field of talent identification, and the police force that has important centres in all cities of Iran in the field of military training.
“Also, children in prison, especially in the area of correctional facilities where juveniles are being cared for and trained, will both become more familiar with squash and accelerate the goal of increasing their squash audience.”
A further goal is to erect glass courts in public spaces to get new eyes on the sport as well as drum up media interest to help the sport grow further in Iran.
“Another strategy to attract a bigger audience is to install glass courts in the most visited and crowded places of the capital and shopping centres,” Gharehziaeddini said.
“By the end of 2020, the largest, most equipped and most beautiful shopping centre in the Middle East will be built, Iran Mall, which is in the final stages of completion. It will be located in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran and will be inaugurated in the open air, which will be covered by the media.”
On plans to attract more women and more younger players to the sport, Gharehziaeddini said: “We are insisting on the formation of women’s squash teams in Iran’s neighbouring and Arabic-speaking countries, which implicitly expressed interest in forming a girls team in West Asia. We have got strong men’s and women’s teams, we came third place in the 2018 Asian Men’s Teams and sixth in the women’s event.
“Also, we won the West Asian Championship. With the guidance of our experienced national coaches we are aiming to participate in both the individual and WSF World Team Squash Championship.
“To attract younger players, one of our methods is to form a squash team of film and television actors as well as extensive advertising and using the media. As well as this, we aim to hold joint festivals for children and parents in cooperation with municipalities, while forming a children’s squash committee in the federation is our other solution.
“We are also looking at the production of step-by-step educational DVDs as well as entering the child and school care centres. Advertising of attractive brochures and posters of children playing squash have made them more interested in the squash experience.”