One of the oldest recorded ball sports in the world is squash. It is played either by two players (singles) or four (doubles) with a small rubber hollow ball in a closed four walled court. The sport got its name from the nature of the balls which are soft and squash-able as against the harder versions played in other types of racket sports. There is a definite area on the walls where the ball must be hit and kept confined to and the players alternately have to hit the ball on that area only.
In spite of its wide popularity and the sport being recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), squash is not yet a part of the Summer Olympics. Applications from various quarters though have been made for its inclusion and supporters of the sport continue to lobby for incorporating squash in future Olympic programme. World Squash Federation (WSF) is the Governing body of the sport and is recognised by the IOC.
History of the Sport
The origins of squash can be traced back to Harrow School in England where it was invented around 1830. It soon gained immense popularity and spread to other schools before going on to become an international sport. The concept was on similar lines with other stringed rackets sports such as tennis though the latter was invented in the late sixteenth century. Unlike tennis that had the ball being hit over the net, squash had players hitting a soft squeezable rubber ball against walls.
While more and more people took to the sport in the 19th century, neither was there any set rules for the sport nor was there any fixed dimension of the playing arena. It was not until 1904 that the earliest known squash federation was formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and came to be known as the United States Squash Rackets Association. In Great Britain, the Royal Automobile Club held a meeting in 1923 to frame rules of the sport and in 1928 the Squash Rackets Association was formed to frame guidelines for squash in the country.
Traditionally, squash rackets were made of laminated wood with a small gut stringed area. Since the mid-1980s when modified rules for the sport were implemented, squash rackets frames are made of composite materials and metals such as graphite, titanium, boron or Kevlar with synthetic strings. Today’s squash rackets are 686mm long and 215mm wide with the stringed area being 500 square centimetres. While the maximum permissible weight of a racket is pegged at 255 grams, most rackets weigh between 90 and 150 grams. Squash balls vary in diameter from 39.5mm to 40.5mm and are made of two glued pieces of rubber compound buffed to a matte finish.
Since a squash ball may bounce off the wall and hit the eye, National Institutes of Health recommend that all players should wear goggles made of polycarbonate lenses. Some squash venues have made this stipulation mandatory and a few associations require junior and doubles players to compulsorily wear eye protection.
The playing surface for squash is an area surrounded by four walls. A line separates the front and back portions of the court with another line marking the back left quarter and the back right quarter. Both the back quarters have small boxes at the back outer quarters for service. The divisions on the court are relevant for serves only without any restrictions during play after service. The dimensions of the court are 9750mm in length and 6400mm in width. The height of a squash court is 5640mm.
Finally, some cold statistics – there are 188 squash playing countries in the world with the number of playing courts being over 8,500 in England alone.