Sport

Don't squash Olympic dream

He's been described as one of the greatest sportsmen on the planet.

But all Egyptian maestro Ramy Ashour wants is to be given the chance to showcase his immense talents on the world's grandest stage - the Olympic Games.

Squash's continual snubbing, while other lesser-known disciplines have been added, is a source of frustration for the former world No.1, who is in Canberra to defend his Australian Open title.

He was part of a delegation in England recently to film a video presentation, which will be used to convince the International Olympic Committee to include squash at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Ashour has promised to up the ante in the campaign, filming players from all over the globe to give his sport the strongest possible case for inclusion.

''I never understood why squash isn't in the Olympics,'' Ashour said.

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''We deserve to be there, everything is up to standards.

''What's really shocking is there are other sports that are under no circumstances better than squash.

''There's something not right about it.''

Squash used to be restricted by its lack of access for spectators.

But that's a thing of the past, with tournaments being held in marquee locations such as New York's famed Grand Central Station in portable glass courts.

That same fan-friendly innovation will be on display at the National Convention Centre, the finishing touches on the court being completed yesterday in time for the week-long event.

Ashour is one of the sport's true superstars.

Still only 24, he's already held the No.1 world ranking and claimed the prestigious World Open.

But a series of hamstring and groin injuries restricted him for the past six months and have seen him slip to No.4 in the world.

He admits the lure of an Olympic Games could see him extend his career beyond what he had originally planned.

''[The prospect of inclusion at the 2020 Olympics] has rekindled my motivation to keep playing for a long time,'' he said.

''The injuries have taught me a lot mentally and physically.

''When you're in this position, there are beasts trying to get to you and take you down.

''I hope I can stay at my top form when I get into the 30s.''

England's James Willstrop, who usurped Ashour's spot at the top of the rankings, believes his rival should be held in high regard.

''He is undoubtedly one of the greatest sportsmen on the planet - certainly the most talented holding a racket in the modern generation,'' Willstrop wrote in his book, Shot and A Ghost.

''Unfortunately the man goes relatively unannounced globally, which is a terrible injustice.

''I'm sure any one of the top 10 players would be happy to admit that the speed of his game operates on a different plane.''

Ashour is the tournament's No 1 seed and begins his Australian Open title defence against a qualifier tomorrow night.

Main draw action in the men's singles starts today, while there will also be qualifying in the women's division with games split between the NCC and the Woden Squash Courts.

AUSTRALIAN SQUASH OPEN: At the Woden Squash Courts from noon, National Convention Centre from 2pm today.

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