Squash legend Jonah Barrington offers his thoughts & opinions on the biggest talking points in the sport

November 01 2023

Renowned for his extraordinary skills and tactical brilliance, Jonah Barrington is a squash legend and pioneer in the sport. Jonah Barrington dominated the squash scene during an illustrious career which spanned from the 1960s to the early 1980s.

In conjunction with www.psaworldtour.com, the six-time British Open Champion shares his insights and dissects the latest discussions within the squash community. Serving as a beacon of wisdom, Jonah Barrington navigates through intricate subjects, offering his unique perspective on the sport's most significant matters.

With a profound intellect that has shaped the course of the game, Jonah Barrington's analyses are an invaluable addition to the squash dialogue. Each month, Jonah offers his unique insights on the most pertinent topics that resonate within the sport.

As arguably the most respected figure within squash, Jonah Barrington's contributions transcend the ordinary and underscores his enduring commitment to the sport he has helped transform.

Through insightful language and incisive thought, his contributions enrich the squash community's understanding while reaffirming his role as one of the sport's foremost intellectuals and pioneers.

In his latest column, Jonah Barrington discusses the inclusion of the sport of squash with the 2028 LA Olympic Games. Jonah recognises Andrew Shelley, a notable figure in squash administration, boasts an impressive tenure overseeing major tournaments, including the Commonwealth Games. His extensive career, spanning from 1976 with the Squash Rackets Association (SRA) to his leadership roles with The Women’s International Squash Players Association (WISPA) and the World Squash Federation (WSF), shows a profound dedication to the sport of squash. Presently, he spearheads the captivating World Squash Library.

Remaining in top form, Andrew remains available for tournament responsibilities, drawing from a wealth of experience. Interestingly, his mother, at 96, still drives and recently handled two speeding tickets, a testament to her vitality.

In a discussion focusing on the Olympics, Andrew Shelley, like many enthusiasts, holds admiration for the event but harbours reservations about the decision-makers within the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While he maintains his decorum, his sentiments echo the frustrations felt by those passionate about squash's Olympic inclusion.

Concerning the forthcoming LA Olympic Games, indications suggest a 32-draw format for both men and women, excluding doubles and team events. While the absence of doubles finds some support, there's a call to consider a team event, seen as a better platform to showcase squash's competitive spirit.

Reflecting on my own past experiences, a three-day Davis Cup-style experiment highlighted the challenges of doubles play. A match partnered by players Gogi Alauddin and Ken Hiscoe against Geoff Hunt and himself in Sheffield, despite its novelty, failed to captivate the audience and highlighted the inherent difficulties in the format.

The prospect of squash’s Olympic future remains uncertain, based upon the unpredictability of the IOC's decisions. Andrew Shelley underscores the importance of leveraging every opportunity to advocate for squash, especially to younger audiences, emphasising its beauty and appeal.

Insights encompass a strategic vision for promoting squash's Olympic credentials, highlighting the need for a comprehensive qualifying event across continents, engaging governing bodies worldwide, aiming to strengthen squash's case for Olympic inclusion.

Regarding notable players, the resurgence of Karim Abdel Gawad, known as the 'Baby-Faced Assassin,' securing titles in Zurich and Malaysia, reflects his enduring talent and resurgence after grappling with injuries. Meanwhile, the return of Mostafa Asal to full form remains a topic of interest, necessitating calm and fair refereeing amidst his mental preparation.

Reflecting on the past, the story of Peter Marshall, a promising talent whose career was interrupted by illness, resonates with perseverance and resilience. The ongoing presence of Peter Marshall in the squash world, despite challenges, serves as a testament to his uniqueness and dedication to the sport.

Lastly, Jonah Barrington makes mention of Guido Grassi, a wheelchair squash player, sheds light on the inspiring individuals contributing to the sport's diversity and inclusivity, adding depth to the tapestry of squash's narratives.

The Jonah Barrington Column: November 2023

In his latest column, the six-time British Open Champion Jonah Barrington delves into the topic of the Olympics and Mostafa Asal before shifting his focus towards the leading female players in the run-up to the U.S. Squash Open.

Regarding the Olympics, the recurring spectacle of Olympic bids has become an exercise in exasperation for many. Despite his ever-present optimism, the perpetual rejection of squash's inclusion in the Games has left Jonah disheartened. His personal connection to the Olympic dream dates back to 1966 when he was interviewed after his first British Open victory and he expressed my desire for squash to be an Olympic event. Jonah believed it to be a dream second only to winning the British Open itself.

Taking a trip down memory lane to 1946, Jonah recalls a poignant encounter when, as a child of five, he embarked on a two-mile walk with his brother Nick and sister Geraldine to meet Harold Abrahams, the 100 meters gold medallist from the 1924 Paris Olympics. Harold's gesture of holding his hand throughout the journey left an indelible mark, and he even sent Jonah his Olympic books from 1948 and 1952. It's a memory that has stayed with Jonah throughout his life.

Despite the continued exclusion from the Olympics, squash has thrived without the advantages that Olympic status brings, such as increased publicity, medals for various nations, and augmented funding from governing bodies. For Jonah, these are now considered mere bonuses, as squash has persevered without them. It has reached a point where he humorously suggests that parachuting should become an Olympic sport, and he would gladly assist the Olympic decision-makers in exiting that plane.

Ironically, despite his deep involvement in squash, he was never consulted by the World Squash Federation (WSF) for input. An intriguing twist is the connection between Jacques Rogge, the former president of the IOC, and the Barrington family, as he spent two holidays with the Barrington’s in Cornwall during Jonah’s teenage years. While in office, Rogge successfully pushed for rugby's inclusion in the Olympics.

Squash has seen its fair share of dedicated administrators, with Andrew Shelley being a notable standout. However, Jonah’s faith in amateurish squash organisations remains limited, and he suspect it always will. We have endured consistent disrespect and disregard, and fears that this pattern will continue to be a source of frustration and disappointment for the squash community.

India's upcoming IOC meeting in Mumbai, with its strong cricket influence, will likely promote the sport vigorously, further overshadowing squash's aspirations. Baseball and softball, with the USA hosting the Games, will also wield considerable financial clout. Sadly, squash has never enjoyed an inside track or influential advocates like Vladimir Putin on our side.

Turning his attention to Mostafa Asal, Jonah commends Mostafa for his recent endeavours to rectify his on-court behaviour. Squash, while a non-contact sport, is undeniably one of the most fiercely contested, and it's common for its leading male players, spanning generations, to occasionally push the boundaries of fair play. Instances of players inadvertently blocking their opponents are part of our sport's history. Even greats like David Palmer, Jonathon Power, and James Willstrop have found themselves in the crossfire of scrutiny. Geoffrey Hunt, a peerless champion, seemingly remained immune to such controversies, but then again, he did win most of the time.

Mostafa Asal, with his exceptional talent, deserves a chance to redeem himself on the court, and Jonah look forward to witnessing his return.

Shifting gears to the world's leading female players, Jonah has often lauded their exemplary conduct on the court, with the superstar frontrunners consistently delivering a level of performance that he considers unparalleled. However, a recent incident during the PSA World Tour Finals hinted at a lapse in sportsmanship. Jonah hopes the involved players take this constructive criticism to heart, as it may resonate with some of the up-and-coming stars on the PSA World Tour.

In Qatar, Hania El Hammamy demonstrated her focus and prowess, earning a well-deserved victory. Meanwhile, Jonah extends his best wishes to Nouran Gohar for a speedy recovery. Her unmatched power on the court, reminiscent of the legendary Heather McKay, has left a lasting impression. Nour El Tayeb's triumph at the Women’s South Western Squash Open 2023 continues to inspires everyone, including her husband, Ali Farag.

The Jonah Barrington Column: October 2023

The recent conclusion of the Paris Squash 2023 tournament marks a pivotal moment for the sport. As someone who has long yearned for squash to gain a more extensive global presence, witnessing the event in the iconic French capital was a gratifying experience, especially after the sport's prolonged absence from such prestigious locales.

One standout performance was Sabina Sobhy's victory over Hania El Hammamy, which marked her second triumph against the talented Egyptian. This achievement underscores Sabina's emergence as a formidable contender, with the potential to challenge the best players in both individual matches and extended tournament runs.

However, the final showdown between Nour El Sherbini and Nouran Gohar, though featuring two exceptional players, fell short of their usual high standards. It serves as a reminder that a lack of personal rivalry can sometimes dull the competitive edge and overall quality of a match.

Turning to the men's game, it’s evident that the absence of Mostafa Asal can leave it feeling somewhat lacking in excitement at times. However, Ali Farag and Paul Coll delivered a match of exceptional quality, showcasing Farag's remarkable skills and the reassuring condition of his knee. Paul Coll, on the other hand, displayed a confident and composed return to the game, consistent with the expectations of his abilities.

My interest in coaching and player dynamics was further piqued by watching the US Open tennis. The encounter between the mature and poised Grand Slam champion, Coco Gauff, and the experienced Caroline Wozniacki shed light on the intricate relationship between players and their coaches.

Coco Gauff’s struggle on the court was accompanied by the persistent instructions of her recent addition, Brad Gilbert, until her father intervened and silenced the coaching barrage. In a fascinating twist, Coco defied the guidance from her "guru" and promptly turned the match in her favour, highlighting the fine line between the need for coaches and players' individual instincts.

It's undeniable that some players greatly benefit from coaches, while others may thrive more independently. Honest communication and timely guidance should never be obscured, and, like Jamie Maddox, I relish the role of stirring the pot and fostering open dialogue in the sport.

In recent years, the world of squash has witnessed a surge in "team" culture, mirroring trends in tennis. Teams often comprise a diverse array of support staff, akin to a coterie of witch doctors. As a representative of an older generation wary of these practices, I acknowledge the growing significance of the support industry in modern sports. We've inadvertently elevated ourselves to a status far more prominent than we merit.

Ultimately, the finest athletes must possess innate intelligence as they progress through their elite developmental phases. Reflecting on the notable "JKs" (Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan), Rahmat Khan played a pivotal role in Jahangir's success, but it's arguable that Jahangir's extraordinary talent transcended any coaching.

Similarly, "The Maestro" Amr Shabana and his ability to outplay Mohamed "ES" ElShorbagy during their initial encounters, even with a compromised knee, underscored the self-sufficiency of some exceptional players. Ramy Ashour, often deemed uncoachable, relied primarily on medical support.

Figures like Chris Dittmar and Rod Martin, in their primes, felt they comprehended the game thoroughly and required no coaches. However, these days, there's a noticeable trend of frequent "hedge-hopping," with players consistently referring to their "teams."

With the exceptions of Nasrullah Khan and Azam Khan, I jest that my current dog and closest companion, 'Badger,' would be my preferred guru over anyone else. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge the mentoring role I played in Mohamed "ES" ElShorbagy's early years. His prodigious power on the court was undeniable, but his challenge has always been sustaining focus for extended periods, often followed by exuberant celebrations.

While he sought perfection through coaches like David Palmer, Rod Martin, and Gregory Gaultier, Hadrian Stiff, his coach in Bristol, deserves recognition. Most players do require technical and physical guidance, with the mental aspects ultimately serving as the linchpin at the highest echelons of the sport.

In jest, I provocatively suggest that coaching may be overrated, but I understand someone of Malcolm Willstrop's coaching prowess would vehemently counter this claim, even from beyond the grave.

It is abundantly clear that the world of squash, like any other sport, has evolved in complex ways. Coaching, support systems, and player dynamics continue to shape the game, and it is our duty to engage in thoughtful discourse and reflection as the sport progresses.

The Jonah Barrington Column: September 2023

The anticipated lull that enveloped our sport seems to be fading away, as the quiet period makes its exit. A remarkable spectacle unfolded at the WSF World Junior Championships in Australia, where the hierarchy among the boys' top seeds was overturned. A notable milestone emerged as a young Pakistani squash player, Hamza Khan, clinched victory, marking the first such triumph since Jansher Khan's feat in 1986.

Inevitably, amidst this exhilaration, controversy also reared its head, a trend that has seemingly become a fixture in our modern times. Additionally, the emergence of another extraordinary Egyptian prodigy, setting new records, further added to the tournament's intrigue.

The resurgence of squash in Pakistan, a territory once synonymous with the sport's glory, has been a subject of patient anticipation. The win by Hamza Khan, though marred by discussions around his age, carries immense potential to signal the return of Pakistan to its historic position on the international squash scene.

One cannot help but reflect on the bygone era when luminaries like Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan shone brilliantly. The passage of time, coupled with the trials that Pakistan has faced, has left us pondering the reasons behind the nation's retreat from the limelight. The legendary figures of Hashim Khan and Roshan Khan still resonate, and Pakistan's tormented history might finally be giving way to the sport's resurgence on the global stage.

Shifting focus to Egypt, a bastion of squash history, the country's recent dominance is undeniable. Amina Orfi stands as a formidable litmus test for those aspiring to ascend the echelons of the women's squash domain. From Salma Shabana's pioneering presence in competitive squash on English soil to the current triumvirate of Nouran Gohar, Nour El Sherbini, and Hania El Hammamy, with due homage to Raneem El Welily, Egypt's prowess continues to burgeon.

Amidst these narratives, Australia's role demands attention. A glimpse into the Australian squash landscape, chronicled by Mike Dale and illuminated further by the insights of the venerable Sarah Fitz-Gerald, brings to the fore the nation's progress.

The recent elevation of the Australian Squash Open and the subsequent staging of a major junior event attest to the country's commitment to squash's evolution. Although its history might be shorter than that of its northern counterparts, Australia's luminous path is adorned with numerous accolades and achievements.

While time has ushered in changes, the enduring spirit of our sport remains indomitable. The desire for a revival echoes loudly. Amidst this global contemplation, the enigmatic Mostafa Asal stands as a polarizing figure. It's a wish that more players of his stature recognise the off-court mission, a mission as crucial as their feats within the indoor courts.

Playing sport professionally is indeed a privilege, a vocation as real as any other. In a world where possibilities abound, there lies an inherent responsibility upon our esteemed athletes to foster and advocate for squash. A game often confined to limited media coverage deserves champions who carry its banner beyond the courts.

Nostalgically recalling the past, a century ago, I maintained a network of contacts within editorial realms, fortifying my visibility and prosperity. James Willstrop's adeptness at leveraging his skills for squash's promotion is laudable. Yet, a multitude of players over time have underutilized this potential. The time is ripe for a shift.

As the landscape evolves, it's intriguing to witness the choices made by players. Marwan's alignment with England and the prospect of Mostafa joining him paints an intriguing picture. This maverick Egyptian, a fervent football enthusiast, may not have been at ease within Cairo's squash upper echelons, but his hypothetical addition to the team aligns with my long-standing support for Chelsea.

Meanwhile, the Welsh valleys might not be Joel Makin's preferred destination. Just as Peter Nicol journeyed from Scotland to England, the prospect of Mostafa donning a kilt elicits a curious smile.

Reflecting on my own journey, I represented Ireland with fervor, but the avenues to represent various other regions were enticing. The squash transfer window, one might jest, never truly shuts.

In a world of shifting allegiances and endless possibilities, the narrative of squash continues to unfold.

The Jonah Barrington Column: August 2023

Jonah Barrington recognises that the CIB PSA World Tour Finals showcased the exceptional standard in women's squash and the emergence of players dedicated to their craft and praises the captivating matches throughout the season, including the memorable duel between Nouran Gohar and Nour El Sherbini.

Similarly, the former World No.1 recognises Ali Farag's incredible comeback after a knee injury and acknowledges the potential of rising star Victor Crouin. He expresses admiration for the return of Karim Abdel Gawad and the unique qualities displayed by Mazen Hesham. Barrington discusses the format of best-of-three matches, acknowledging their merits while also noting the challenges they pose. In analysing the men's final between Mostafa Asal and Diego Elias, Barrington criticises the excessive collisions and lack of respect for the referee.

Similarly, he deems the women's final a farcical display with both players at fault and emphasises the disrespect shown to referee John Massarella.

Barrington compares the unfavourable atmosphere in Cairo to a contrasting positive experience watching a tennis match and how he believes that the incidents in Cairo left a sour impression, tarnishing the image of the game.

The Jonah Barrington Column: July 2023

Barrington's career highlights include six British Squash Open titles and four British National Championships. He was the World Amateur Squash Champion four times, consecutively from 1967 to 1970.

Notably, Barrington was among the first players to adopt a more physical and aggressive style of play, which revolutionised the sport. Barrington made a seamless transition to the professional era and remained a formidable force, continuing to secure major championships and accolades. Barrington's dedication to fitness and rigorous training routines set new standards for squash athletes worldwide.

Apart from his outstanding playing career, Barrington made significant contributions to squash as a coach and administrator. He served as the Director of Coaching for England Squash (then known as the Squash Racket Association) and played a crucial role in developing young talent in the sport.

In recognition of his remarkable achievements and contributions, Barrington was inducted into the World Squash Hall of Fame in 1987, cementing his status as one of the sport's all-time greats. His impact on squash continues to be felt, as he remains an influential figure in promoting and shaping the future of this beloved racquet sport.