Squash in Palarong Pambansa?

There are plans to introduce squash in the Palarong Pambansa but even if it’s initially brought in as a demonstration sport, how can elementary and high school students learn to play the game if courts aren’t available in the provinces?


At the moment, squash is exclusively played in Metro Manila and the lack of a provincial infrastructure is keeping the Philippine Squash Academy (PSA), the POC-recognized NSA, from growing the sport nation-wide. PSA president Bob Bachmann has initiated talks with a wood sponsor to supply the materials for a collapsible, portable court that can do rounds all over the country but there has to be permanence to establish a foothold in places where there are potential athletes willing to try the sport.


It’s a challenge and struggle but Bachmann hopes the recent success of the Philippine squash team he calls Kayod Pilipinas in the SEA and Asian Games will inspire sponsors to take notice. He envisions the construction of a National Squash Center, like in Singapore and Malaysia, where the public has access to at least eight courts. There is also the plan to build two courts at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. It’s been long discussed but far from finished. The Rizal courts will be open to the public, the first facility outside of those in private clubs. Another plan is building four singles courts with movable walls to convert to two doubles courts plus one jumbo doubles court at the Manila Polo Club where squash will be played at the SEA Games next year.


“We’re developing a low-cost court made entirely of Hardiflex walls and floor panels with clear acrylic or glass back and supported by wood and metal framing,” says Bachmann. “We plan to use the improvised courts to be movable and reusable. Once successful, we’ll coordinate with the Department of Education to include squash in the Palarong Pambansa and roll the courts out to the provinces. There’s an outdoor all-glass public court in New York City and a second is opening soon. We’re also looking into this option.”


At the SEA Games last year, Kayod Pilipinas brought home a record two silver and six bronze medals, the biggest haul ever from squash. One silver came from women’s jumbo doubles with the country’s No. 1 female player Myca Aribado, now ranked No. 84 in the world, and Aysah Dalida and the other from the men’s team that upset top favorite Malaysia in the semifinals. The squash silvers were the first-ever for the Philippines in the SEA Games.


At the Asian Games this year, the Philippine team of four men and four women didn’t land a podium finish but set a record with 11 match and two team wins. The Philippines made its squash debut at the 2010 Asian Games and failed to notch a single win, losing two opening-round matches. So registering 11 match wins was a quantum leap.


The two team wins were a 3-0 wipeout of Nepal in men and a 3-0 thrashing of Pakistan in women. Posting wins against Nepal were David Pelino (11-3, 11-3, 11-2 over Magar Amrit Thapa), Mac Begornia (11-5, 11-3, 11-7 over Arhant Keshar Simha) and Dondon Espinola (11-1, 11-6, 11-9 over Gyanu Chaudhury). The winners in the Pakistan tie were Aribado (11-6, 11-7, 11-6 over Faiza Zafar), Dalida (8-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-3, 13-11 over Kiffat Khan) and Rina Borromeo (11-9, 11-8, 11-8 over Amna Fayyiz).


Both the men and women teams dropped close 2-1 decisions to South Korea. In men, No. 1 player Robert Garcia disposed of Ko Young-jo, 11-6, 11-9, 8-11, 6-11, 12-10 and in women, Aribado downed Ahn Eunnt-schan, 8-11, 15-13, 11-5, 11-9. Begornia took a set from Lee Seung Taek before losing, 3-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-7 as did Dalida in a 9-11, 11-6, 11-8, 11-4 defeat to Eum Hwa-yeong. In another duel, the men bowed to Japan, 3-0 but the matches were hard-fought as Garcia, slowed down by a bum stomach, lost to Ryunosuke Tsukue, 11-4, 11-8, 12-10 and Pelino was beaten by Tomataka Endo, 12-10, 11-7, 13-11. Aribado, 24, had the most matches won with three. Garcia, 32, and Dalida, 25, prevailed twice while Pelino, 25, Begornia, 26, Espinola, 22 and Borromeo, 39, each won a match.


In preparing for the SEA Games, Bachmann is requesting clearance from the squash governing bodies to allow New Zealand-based Filipino teeners Matthew Lucente and Gabe Yam to play for the Philippines. A plan to enlist Filipino-Malaysian Valentino Bong has been put on hold since Malaysia does not recognize dual citizenship. US-based Andrea Jemiolo, 17, was a revelation in the Asian Games and will be brought in for the SEA Games.


“Andrea is fast and plays good volley drops and must continue with her training in the US as we will definitely play her in the SEA Games,” notes Bachmann. “We will bring in a foreign coach and we’ll consider coach Carl Koenig of South Africa. I’ve spoken with (PSC) Chairman Butch Ramirez who’ll look into and work on building the public courts at Rizal.”