The French world no. 3 explains to Sam Price what it would mean for squash to make its long-awaited Olympic debut in her home city – and how she has been contributing to efforts to make it happen
Squash’s long struggle to become part of the Olympic Games has been well publicised, with the latest exclusion from Rio 2016 a particularly bitter pill to swallow, but recent developments suggest the sport is getting ever closer to a coveted seat at the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) lucrative, quadrennial sporting banquet.
First there was a boost in July, when it was confirmed that squash will be a showcase sport when Buenos Aires hosts the third edition of the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. The event is widely seen as a testing ground for the Olympic Games itself, and has proved a precursor to full Olympic inclusion for the likes of skateboarding and sport climbing, both of which are set to debut at the next edition of the Summer Games in Tokyo.
As a result of the IOC’s wide-ranging Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, organising committees are also now being given more responsibility and flexibility when it comes to designing an Olympic sport programme that reflects local interests. While that didn’t work out for squash ahead of Tokyo 2020, as the host city supplemented sports more traditionally popular in Japan such as karate and baseball, squash administrators are becoming increasingly optimistic that the sport could make its long-awaited Olympic bow in the near future, following the IOC’s decision to award the hosting rights to the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games to squash-friendly cities Paris and Los Angeles respectively.
While there are more than one-and-a-half million squash players in the United States, where it is one of the fastest-growing activities according to US Squash CEO Kevin Klipstein, France also has a strong pedigree, not to mention the Professional Squash Association’s (PSA) 2016-17 Players of the Year in Gregory Gaultier and Camille Serme.
Significantly, Serme was approached by the Paris 2024 candidature committee to assist with the ultimately successful bid campaign, during a breakthrough season that saw her win two PSA Road to Dubai titles and soar to a career-high world no. 2 ranking. The 28-year-old Parisian didn’t have to think twice about agreeing to help out.
“The French committee asked me to be involved in the bid for Paris 2024, and I was very honoured because squash is not an Olympic sport yet. So [becoming] part of this Olympic family was big for me,” said Serme in an exclusive interview with Vision Sport after her run to the semi-finals of the PSA Dubai World Series Finals in June.
The prestigious end-of-season event, which boasts an innovative best-of-three format, a polished broadcast product and this year a spectacular new venue at Dubai Opera, provided a glittering showcase to the IOC of exactly how squash could work should it be added to the Olympics. And now Serme, who also works part-time as a journalist, is seeking to capitalise upon the increased exposure that Dubai has given to squash, and amplifying it in her native France.
“I’ve been going to quite a few [meetings] with other French athletes, and I’m trying to create an event in September,” she said of her involvement in the campaign. “Hopefully, I’ll bring some journalists and some French champions in other sports to try and speak about squash.”
While more work needs to be done for Serme’s dream scenario to be realised, the diminutive Frenchwoman can’t resist imagining possible squash venues in her iconic home city.
“There are quite a few locations where we could put the glass court,” she enthuses.
“After seeing [the PSA World Series Finals] at Dubai Opera, it would be amazing to see it at the Palais Garnier [the famous Parisian opera house]. But before that, I thought maybe under the Eiffel Tower, or at the Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, where they’ve held fencing and equestrian events before. That’s a great location as well.”
If squash is added to the Olympic roster for Paris 2024 – with the recent election of Frenchman Jacques Fontaine as President of the World Squash Federation surely doing no harm to the cause – then Serme would undeniably gain an extra source of motivation to prolong a distinguished career that has seen her get better with age.
“If squash makes it for 2024 then I will want to try and make it too, for sure,” she says.
“I’ll be 35 so it’s not impossible, [especially] when you see what [men’s players] Gregory [Gaultier] and Nick [Matthew] have done.
“It would be amazing and I want to do as much as I can to make it an Olympic sport.”