Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The Alex effect

Many of the world’s best male and female squash players are not only Egyptian but come from the country’s most famous coastal city, Ameera Fouad reports

squach
squach
Al-Ahram Weekly

It is undeniably true that the top world rankings in squash go to Egyptians. Of the top five men in the world, the best is Egyptian: Mohamed Al-Shorbagi. Omar Mosaad is No 3.

In the women’s rankings, again an Egyptian tops the world: Nour Al-Sherbini, followed by Raneem Al-Weleili at No 3 and Nouran Gohar 5. There is also Marwan Al-Shorbagi (6), Fares Al-Desouki (21), Salma Hani (28), Mariam Metwalli (32), Habiba Mohamed (40) and many more who are hoping to following in their footsteps. The names have been engraved in the hearts and minds and squash history.  

But it is also a truism that many of the Egyptians are Alexandrians. Recently, as more young players have joined the sport and have been winning world titles, the more we have come to know that they come from this coastal city by the Mediterranean Sea. What is the effect of this city on players? What are the reasons behind such great successes in a sport watched by millions worldwide but not nearly as popular in Egypt as football? The answers may lie in the hands of the coaches, the players themselves, the clubs, the whole ambience and the milieu Alexandria instills in them. The reasons are many, however, the Alexandria background needs to be highlighted.

What makes a champion? To put it another way, is there a specific formula that raises generations of squash champions, beginning with Ahmed Barada in the nineties to Amr Shabana at the turn of the century and ending with Al-Shorbagi and Al-Sherbini? In fact, behind such glamour and breaking of world records lies much human resources, all helping to make a champion, ranging from coaches, trainers and administrators to parents and teachers.

There is also no doubt that the clubs which foster and bring up those champions share a huge part in this booming success. Smouha and Sporting clubs in Alexandria are good examples of how to bring up generations of youth who are making the most of their time, proudly raising Egypt’s flag everywhere. No matter how hard it is for a player to achieve a top world ranking, players in Alexandria, especially juniors, are paving the way and toiling to reach what their counterparts have achieved.

“It is the cult of Alexandria, I dare say, that accounts for such talented players,” said Ahmed Taher, a squash coach in Smouha Club. “To have as many as 286 players, then filter them to 55 means that the squash cult has grown into the minds of players as well as their parents. We keep struggling to add new players and more importantly to believe in them more. By the end of the year, we say that these are our 55 players in the club teams which will achieve higher than expected results,” Taher said.

“I believe that we do not have any alternatives in our city than to play sports, especially for younger ages where physical fitness must be accomplished at some time. Players in Smouha Club prefer playing rather than wasting their time in cafés and malls, or leading a life full of cigarettes and drugs.  Their only outlet is playing sports and achieving success in it,” Taher added.

In addition, Smouha has one of the best academies for junior players in Egypt, spending around three to four years in full-intensive practice.  “In the academy, we focus more on enhancing their abilities, their shots, and their physical fitness. We also plan seasonal internal tournaments throughout the whole year so they could break the fear barrier when joining real championships,” Taher said.

“After completing their academic years, they join what is called the future team in which the selection process is made according to certain rules and regulations but depending mainly on the players’ shots and standpoints. Such a future team is the seed of every champion. Then, eventually they join the club’s team,” Taher added.

For clubs to have such a sophisticated and well-organised plan for squash players, a wise administration must pave the way to make this happen. That is mostly what Smouha and Sporting clubs do. Signing contracts with juniors who have outshone others in tournaments is the best way to guarantee the player’s loyalty towards the club.

“To build trust between a club and its player is not an easy job. And in Smouha, these players are our players, our children and our members. So we must make sure that this relationship is sustained and strengthened. The club has become their second home. They spend time in the club much more that they do at home. We see them here studying, playing, dining, practicing and even sometimes falling asleep, so tired they are.”

“That is a strategy we are keen on keeping going. We do not buy players; we make players so that they could become champions,” Taher added.

Whereas Mohamed Al-Shorbagi, Marwan Al-Shorbagi, Hani, Al-Desouki and many more are all Smouha’s club pride, Al-Sherbini , who was a Smouha player, recently moved to Sporting Club. Habiba Mohamed and many others are originally from Sporting Club.

“What makes one a champion is not only about the technical aspect, the artistic and physical excellence. Also manners are of vital importance especially in squash courts. One could be very violent and aggressive in squash courts where injuries might happen to the opponent. That is why we instill in the players the basis of ethics from a pretty early age,” Essam Farag, one of the oldest and most highly experienced  coaches in Sporting Club, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“We have also seen recently that many Egyptians compete with each other in world championships where the opponent might be your friend, your life companion and your colleague. Therefore, good manners and behaviour is really what makes a champion. We can see that many of the Egyptian world champions are famous for their incomparable manners and behaviour. For example, Nour Al-Sherbini and Raneem Al-Weleili are really role models for other generations to follow, in both their excellent performances as well as their politeness and respect. They are considerate and deferential,” Farag said.

Farag recounts the difficulties which some players face in Alexandria especially when being on Egypt’s national team, saying that these players usually face much difficulty in going to Cairo every day for their daily practice. “It is one of the biggest unsolved problems that keeps arising whenever we have champions from the club who have joined the squash national team.”

“It is too hectic for them and their parents to travel to Cairo daily to practice with the national team. I believe it is a very old problem that the Egyptian Squash Association must take into consideration -- players who come from across the county,” Essam added.

In a country where more than half of its national team top world rankings, the National  Squash Championships held during the year provides the reason why: lots of battering  competition between the players. “This makes players better as they get used to matches. They learn from others and teach others, too.”

“I find the competition here is really high. Sometimes, the national and the local championships are more difficult than the British Open or PSA world tours,” said Ibrahim Metwalli, father of Mariam Metwalli, a junior professional squash player, from Alexandria, naturally.

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