We’re just days away from the start of the squash competition at the Hangzhou Asian Games!
To get an insight into what it’s like from the other side of the glass, we’ve been speaking to Peter Genever, who will be Team Manager for the Squash Association of Hong Kong, China as they compete in Hangzhou.
Peter, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. Could you start by telling us a bit about how you started in Hong Kong?
Sure, I started in March 2020 – which was the day before they put all the restrictions in place for COVID! I got a call in December 2019, to say that the Association was looking for somebody to do the job on an interim because [Australian former World No.2] Chris Robertson was temporarily stepping down. I initially was signed on in March 2020 to do six months, but then it turned out that Chris wouldn’t be able to return and so the full-time post became available. So really, from September 2020, I kind of started officially.
Obviously to make that decision from an initial six-month contract to signing on permanently, you must have enjoyed that initial spell?
Yeah, before I came out here I had been the head coach in Malaysia, so that’s one of the reasons they wanted to get me in on the interim job was because I had experience in the region and sometimes it’s kind of easier to integrate with the culture when you’ve had the experience.
That was helpful for me, but then the situation around COVID and stuff made things pretty challenging. But after six months I felt it was a really nice environment and I don’t think I would have come out for the initial interim period if I hadn’t also been prepared to stay on if the opportunity arose – so that initial decision was sort of based on the second decision.
Of course, the Asian Games, originally scheduled for 2022, were one of a number of major sporting events that had to be postponed due to COVID and it’s great to have them back. What will your day to day work look like in Hangzhou?
My official capacity will be Team Manager and I’ll be working with our two coaches [former World No.13 Rebecca Chiu and former World No.21 Faheem Khan] to look after the teams, but obviously I’ll still be involved in the in the coaching as well. It’s a little bit different this year, with the doubles and singles and team events.
And with mixed doubles being introduced for the first time, how has that affected your team’s preparation ahead of Games?
I think it’s a great addition to the Games. Mixed doubles, particularly, is really exciting.
Obviously, we are really happy that it’s in because it’s another metal to fight for, which is what we’re going for. But I would say we’re at a slight disadvantage in as much that you know there aren’t many tournaments [for the team to compete in]. Obviously, Malaysia and India have the Commonwealth Games, so they have a little bit of experience. It’s not necessarily that they’ve played more than us, but they just got that kind of experience within the programme.
So I think, initially, we were just catching up. And then kind of we’ve had a couple of tournaments now, in Asia, which has been great and we’ve learned a lot from those.
I think I think it’s going to be a great event
With there being a little bit of conflict between the different squash event schedules, team managers have had quite difficult choices to make in terms of who’s going to play which event. Can you talk me through a little bit of the thinking in your selections?
Ours was pretty straightforward – we’ve picked our strongest players for the singles. When I say strongest, at the time, in terms of rankings, there might have been a small discrepancy between one of one or two of the players. But essentially, we kind of picked those guys who were consistently playing at slightly higher level, consistently performing a little bit better on the World Tour.
When we made the decision, we wanted to make it early as well so we could give our pairs the most possible time to really get their heads around how to do it and go from team singles into doubles.
We wanted extra time for that and didn’t want to leave it until the deadline in June to make our decision. So we decided fairly early and the players were clear on their roles.
While for us, it was a fairly straightforward decision, for other teams has been interesting because in strengthening their doubles teams, they’ve possibly weakened their singles teams. So it’s been kind of nice to see the strategy between each country has been slightly different.
We saw the doubles teams heading out to Hangzhou earlier this year for the “Exciting Hangzhou” KINME Asian Cup competition. What did you make of the Hangzhou Olympic Sport Centre while you were there?
The venue itself is really, really impressive.
This is quite a unique event – there aren’t many events where every court is a glass court and I think the organisers have done a fantastic job. They’ve got obviously got three all-glass custom built doubles courts, which is incredible. And then obviously the four glass singles courts and then the show court as well.
So, yeah, I think they’ve done a fantastic job to put it together and I think the players are going to love competing on glass sports the whole week, and then playing the doubles on the glass as well.
The way that the work that they’ve done in Hangzhou overall is incredible, isn’t it? Like the infrastructure, they’ve put in place, the stadiums they’ve put up, it’s really, really going lend itself to a great Games and the media coverage is really extensive.
It’s great to hear that it looked as good in person as on social media! For those who may not be as familiar with the Asian Games, how big and how important are they, not just to squash but sports in Asia in general?
It’s huge. It really is a massive event.
Everything [for Asian players] kind of leads into this and there’s a lot on the line for funding and prestige. It’s huge in Asia, up there with the Commonwealth Games and the PanAmerican Games.
And all the countries have to do well, that’s the kind of the reality of it. There’s no backing away from that; you’re expected to deliver some medals. But that’s good, that’s what we want and it’s why we’re involved. That’s why they train – we want to be in this environment!
Peter Genever was speaking ahead of the 19th Asian Games, which takes place September 23-08 October, with the squash competitions being played in the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre September 26-05 October.