Ziad Al-Turki: ‘we have one sport, we are one family’

The President of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) explains why Dubai is the natural choice to host the World Series Finals

What does it mean for the sport to have the World Series Finals in Dubai?

Being associated with Dubai is great for the sport. If you look at all the top sports that are here, this tournament could be the next catalyst to take the sport forward. Sponsors that had not considered squash before are already approaching us, and they’re coming to us because the event’s going to be in Dubai. It’s the sporting capital of the region, and people from all around the world are excited to come here because of what Dubai offers.

You have organised regional tournaments for more than a decade. how has squash evolved in that time?

We haven’t changed the game, the players engage in the same intense battle they always have but we have changed everything around them. My first tournament was in Saudi Arabia in 2005, and back then there were things I knew we could do much better. For example, the PSA put a limit on how much you could pay in prize money, and they were even encouraging me to go lower. I didn’t understand that: these players are tremendous athletes, they should earn accordingly. The courts were worn out and tired, the lighting was awful, you couldn’t see the ball, and the filming was second-rate.

In 2009 you organised the World Series Finals for the first time. How did you start innovating the sport?

Back then our priority was to improve the way the sport would look on television. We brought in the glass court manufacturers and worked with them to build the best combinations of panel types and colours, testing them with lighting, video cameras, and even different ball colours.

We also set a global standard for the flooring, which had been unregulated before. We went to our manufacturers and worked with them to develop flooring that met the players’ demands.

At one point we were told that we couldn’t do super-slow-motion because the lights would flicker on-screen, but this was important to us so we went to our court manufacturers again and worked with them on their lighting to fix the problem. It’s about asking questions of the players, of the broadcasters, of the promoters and of the equipment manufacturers, finding out what they need and then finding a way of achieving that.

This shows the character of our squash players: we have one sport, we are one family, we have one future, and we should be together

Ziad Al Turki, President of the PSA

What has been the impact of such changes?

Squash is today the fastest growing sport in the US, and we are seeing huge interest in hosting tournaments from all over the world. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, viewing figures broke a million and the squash venue was sold out every day. These are all very encouraging signs.

Our sponsors have also carried out studies and found that in squash you get more value for money than in any other sport. The court is a cube that can be placed anywhere: if you’re at the foot of the Burj Khalifa or in Grand Central Station, you have thousands of people passing by all the time. Forget television or the media, the location itself is enough to promote your name. It lends itself to dynamic locations and spectacular venues, and you’re only limited by your imagination.

How has the PSA secured equal prize money for both men’s and women’s games?

When I first took over the World Series Finals they didn’t have women in the tournament. We spoke to the players and everybody agreed that what benefitted the women’s sport would benefit the men’s sport, and vice versa. So in 2010 we brought four women in to play exhibition matches, and the following year the top eight women were full participants in the tournament.

In 2014 we had a vote among all our members and the majority decided that the Women's Squash Association and the PSA should join forces under one banner, the PSA. That shows the character of our squash players: we have one sport, we are one family, we have one future, and we should be together. Today in Dubai the World Series Finals has equal prize money, and the female winner will win the highest cash prize in the history of women’s squash.

What is your personal tie to the sport?

When I was about 10 years old my uncle built a squash court with a cement floor and cement walls on the roof of his house in Khobar, in Saudi Arabia. We used to play and it was horrible but it gave me a passion for the sport that has never gone away. I had another uncle who tried to get me to play tennis, but that never worked, whereas squash lends itself to the Middle East. You’re indoors and it’s air conditioned so you don’t have to worry about heat, humidity, or dust storms.