Oct. 20, 2012 was World Squash Day, a holiday declared by fans around the world to facilitate the inclusion of squash in the Olympics. To me, it has a more personal meaning: It was the day I launched China’s first squash newspaper, Squash News Brief, with other Chinese fans. We were the squash vanguard in China, trying to promote the sport in a new and different way.
Most people know that squash is a racket sport played in a four-walled court with a small, hollow rubber ball. To me, it’s more than that. I started playing squash 10 years ago, and the more I played, the better I understood its charm. The ball waltzes around between different walls, so it has more possible trajectories than in games played in the open air, which makes it more fun to me. Squash is a speedy sport: in a few seconds the black rubber ball flies at you like a bullet, you rush to receive it, you hit it back. The sport reaches its climax either in the harsh bang when the ball crashes into the wall when you are playing alone, or with a fantastic shot that dies in a corner of the court in a game. You can play squash with friends or alone, which makes it a very versatile pastime.
Yale boasts 15 brand-new squash courts, but the sport has never enjoyed this kind of popularity in China. When I played squash during high school, most of my friends had never heard about this sport, let alone tried it. Chinese media coverage of squash was modest, and even official websites weren’t furnished with translations of the latest international news. The contrast between the great fun of playing squash and its limited popularity within China prompted me and fellow squash fans Zixian Hua and Jianfei Ren to launch our own squash newspaper. We brought international squash news to Chinese fans and added original content, such as in-depth interviews with remarkable people in China’s squash community. We have been running Squash News Brief for over 3 years; we print 1,000 copies of each issue and send them to squash clubs and sports centers in nine cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Dalian. We hope that squash fans can keep up to date thanks to our newspaper, but also that people who have never heard of squash before can get to know this sport.
More than a newspaper, Squash News Brief is a community for squash fans, a channel between the international squash circle and local aficionados. In December 2013, we launched the first field trip for our student reporters during the Hong Kong Squash Open. The students had played squash for just a year or two, but all of a sudden, they were interviewing the president of the Asian Squash Federation and top-performing players. The high school students were paralyzed by their subjects’ friendliness and good-hearted humor.
Thanks to my position as co-founder and chief editor at Squash News Brief, last year I had a personal encounter with Annie Au, the former world No. 6 female player from Hong Kong. We had delicious ice cream on French toast right after her interview and photo shoot with a local magazine. A two-time winner of the Hong Kong Sports Stars Award, Annie is a local favorite. But in front of me, she could have been just another college graduate who first started playing squash because the court had air conditioning, who loved to watch the latest Chinese TV drama on an iPad in her leisure time, and who would herself fangirl over other celebrities. She shared an anecdote of coming across a famous Chinese actress at a hotel gym in Shanghai:
“She was so pretty, even without makeup. I really wanted to seize the chance to look at her closely, and tried to call my family to the spot,” she told me with a smile. Annie is a good representation of the rest of the squash community: modest, easygoing, yet still highly professional.
At Yale, I invited some friends who had never played squash before to try it and taught them the game’s basic rules and moves. To my surprise, the majority of them were able to serve the ball and hit it consecutively, not long after they first picked up a racket. Their progress made me self-conscious when I remembered how long it took me to progress when I first started. Still, I was excited that many of them became really interested in squash; some even signed up for squash courses at Payne Whitney.
Sometimes I sigh when I search “squash” on Google and get tons of results about pumpkins before anything about squash as a sport. This reminds me of how far the whole squash community, from beginner players to officials in the World Squash Federation, has to go to spread word that “squash” not only makes good food, but makes good games.
But I see glimmers of hope on various occasions. When I volunteered at last year’s National Junior Squash Championship in Beijing, I noticed that in three years’ time, the number of participants had increased sharply, and the facilities were now ringed with sponsor stalls. To my surprise, the greatest number of competitors was in the youngest group. From the enthusiasm on their cute little faces, I could see that the future of this sport is even brighter than its present.