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PSA Chief Executive Alex Gough

Message from the CEO: 2021 Recap and a Look Ahead to the New Year

2021 proved to be another challenging year for professional sport as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to play havoc across the globe, but we are proud of the resilience and togetherness shown by the squash community over the past 12 months.

The first part of the year was undoubtedly impacted by the pandemic and, together with our tournament promoters, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel a large part of the US swing of our tour in the opening months – including the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions – while events on the PSA Challenger Tour were restricted to domestic and cross-border entries only.

Despite the difficulties, we were hard at work planning for the future of the sport and the association, so we were delighted to announce a landmark agreement with Infront in February that we feel will be a game changer, not just for professional squash, but for the sport as a whole.

The deal with Infront will see us work together to maximise the earning opportunities from media, betting, sponsorship and digital rights of all properties controlled by our new commercial entity, Squash Media & Marketing (SMM). This is important to us as we view improving the commercial offering of the sport and PSA Tour – as well as the continued growth of our broadcast product – as crucial to the development of squash.

We are also fully redeveloping SQUASHTV – our OTT platform – to provide a better viewing experience for fans and, together with Infront, will work closely with the World Squash Federation (WSF) and National Federations to develop the sport at all levels.

Since signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the WSF in 2017, our relationship with them has gone from strength to strength and we were delighted to jointly launch our World Squash Officiating (WSO) in April. WSO is an online education and appraisal portal and designed to standardise officiating qualifications worldwide.

Together with WSF, we have launched WSO with the aim of creating a worldwide standard in refereeing and a clear referee pathway. It’s an important goal of both organisations and we have already partnered with a number of National Federations and received some fantastic feedback on the platform.

Our work with National Federations has also continued to progress through the creation of SMM. We have signed a long-term partnership with England Squash which will see us manage the event delivery, marketing, promotion and broadcast of both the Allam British Open and British National Squash Championships until 2031.

We have also been delighted to welcome Racketware as an Official Partner of the PSA. Racketware are an innovative and forward-thinking company and we have already enjoyed a mutually beneficial agreement with them which has seen SMM take over the communications and marketing functions of the organisation.

The PSA Foundation also celebrated its fifth anniversary in June and provided vital support to players with $70,000 in financial aid being given out to those most affected by the pandemic by the Foundation’s We Are One fund.

Whilst we were hard at work behind the scenes to strike the Infront deal and various other agreements, our operations team were also working hard to ensure that we could bring our players back to competitive action in a way that didn’t jeopardise their health and safety or the safety of ancillary staff that work at our various tournaments.

During this period, the attitude of our players was first-class and we were thrilled to get the World Tour back up and running with the CIB PSA Black Ball Squash Open in March. It was the latest evidence of CIB’s fantastic commitment to squash and the role they have played since returning from our six-month suspension in 2020 has been incredible.

In addition to the Black Ball event, they also supported the El Gouna International and the CIB PSA World Tour Finals in the first half of the year. The best of Egyptian talent was on show, with Nour El Sherbini, Nouran Gohar, Marwan ElShorbagy, Mohamed ElShorbagy and Mostafa Asal all winning titles during that period.

As the world began to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, the World Tour headed back to the United States for the first time in 16 months as we witnessed the PSA World Championships presented by the Walter Family take place in Chicago.

We were incredibly proud to hold the sport’s second $1,000,000 event against the backdrop of the pandemic and I’d like to thank the Walter family for their support as well as John Flanigan and his team at the University Club of Chicago.

2020-21 PSA World Champions Ali Farag (left) and Nour El Sherbini (right)

In August, we were also able to reintroduce fully international tournaments on the PSA Challenger Tour. This was an important milestone for us. The Challenger Tour is so important for up-and-coming players and seasoned professionals alike, so opening our events up to international participation once again helped provide players with more choices and playing opportunities.

World No.1s Ali Farag and Nour El Sherbini proved that they were the best players on the globe with victories over Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nouran Gohar that week.

The World Championships was also the setting of the final match in the career of Frenchman Gregory Gaultier, who called time on his glittering career at the age of 38. Gaultier fell to Welshman Joel Makin in the last 32, which brought the curtain down a record-breaking career that saw him become the sport’s oldest ever World No.1, in addition to winning 44 PSA titles, including the PSA World Championships.

While Egypt continued to dominate the roll of honours list at our major events, there was a changing of the guard in the men’s Allam British Open a few weeks later as Farag fell to Paul Coll in Hull. Coll has been the biggest challenger to the Egyptians at the top of the men’s rankings in 2020 and his win saw him become the first male Kiwi ever to win the iconic event.

Meanwhile, Diego Elias’s first major title at the Qatar Classic in November indicates that, like Coll, he could prove to be a major thorn in the side of the Egyptians in 2022.

The CIB Squash Open Black Ball closed out 2021 in December with Coll and El Sherbini taking the honours.

El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar look set to put on a captivating battle for the women’s No.1 spot next year. While El Sherbini had the better of her opponent at the World Championships and Allam British Open, we saw Gohar respond in the best possible way to win the CIB Egyptian Open and then the U.S. Open.

It will also be exciting to see if USA’s No.1 Amanda Sobhy can join the battle after her Oracle NetSuite Open win saw her become the first US-born player to reach the top three in the rankings.

Also flying up the rankings have been the likes of England’s Georgina Kennedy and Egypt’s Moustafa El Sirty, who have been the stars of the Challenger Tour in 2021 with 17 titles between them.

Georgina Kennedy is one of the rising stars on the PSA World Tour

The outlook for 2022 is positive and we predict an incredibly busy year. We have 22 events planned for January and February on the PSA World Tour and Challenger Tour, including four SQUASHTV events as we return to the Windy City Open, while the Houston Open, Carol Weymuller Open and Squash on Fire Open will be streamed live for the first time.

Later on in the year, we hope to go to Mauritius for the first time as well as welcome back the likes of the International de Nantes and the Hong Kong Open to the calendar. I’m looking forward to the year ahead and I hope you will join us on what promises to be an exciting journey over the next 12 months.

Happy New Year and stay safe,

Alex Gough
PSA Chief Executive Officer

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