HISTORY OF KUWAIT SQUASH

But that became so when the world rejoiced at Kuwait's liberation back in 1991 and as part of the celebration of this immense achievement, which required so much courage, spirit, and human sacrifice, squash too acquired an international focus.
 
Remarkably, more than a decade later squash has become involved in another kind of landmark with its leading tournament becoming associated with a young and talented member of the royal family whose life had been taken tragically and unexpectedly early.
 
Its steady progress and international profile helped create new meaning and transcendental purpose to a death which to so many in Kuwait had been painful and hard to comprehend.
 
For a small sport with few enthusiasts, all this helped bring a miraculous flowering. How precisely that happened may be beyond our understanding, but it is possible to identify the seeds which made its growth possible.
 
Squash emerged not long after another great conflict, World War Two, when the Kuwait Oil company established four courts in Al-Ahmedi city in 1948. It did not at first seem like a momentous event as there was no air-conditioning and high temperatures discouraged playing squash.
 
But the spread of the Khan squash-playing dynasty around the world helped people realise what a very special combination of keeping physical fit, and achieving mental therapy as well as having fun - this sport can be, and in 1960 the Ministry of Education became involved, encouraging the building of more courts.
 
When the Al Qadsiya club built two courts it acted as a trigger, and soon the Ministry of Social Affairs began to do so too. Then the army ordered the building of courts in military camps, something which now seems like an omen of the how squash entered the national consciousness.
 
Liberation brought massive changes, emotional, economic, and social. Kuwait moved forward spectacularly. But Kuwait also needed to remember. When the Al Qadsiya club courts were replaced they were named after the prisoner of war, Yousouf Al Mishari.
 
But the biggest squash landmark was the creation of the Liberation Cup in February 1992, which attracted professional journalists, photographers and several television crews to Kuwait. Of course the squash was world class but the great media interest was really heightened by the momentous context of this tournament.
 
”Kuwait was just recovering from the aftermath of the savage war with Saddam Hussein and ruins and destruction were in evidence everywhere”, wrote Fritz Borchert, the cosmopolitan European photo-journo. “Nearly everyone you talk to was badly affected by the war and had a horror story to tell. I was privileged to be allowed, attached to a French TV crew, to go to the border region with Iran and see many of the oil wells still burning and saw much of the oil spread over wide areas of the desert sand”.
 
So as part of the mammoth task of reconstruction and to give a positive signal to the world, the Liberation Cup was born in 1992 and most of the world's leading players found their way to Kuwait City.
 
The entry was led by the stupendous Jahangir Khan, the record ten-times British Open Champion from Pakistan, who later returned to Kuwait several times as President of the World Squash Federation.
 
Also in the field was his rival Ross Norman, the 1986 World Champion from New Zealand, as well as Chris Dittmar, the former World No.1 from Australia. Great interest also focussed on the entertaining and up-coming Ahmed Barada, the best player from Egypt for many years.
 
Barada found Jahangir too good and so did everyone else. The great Pakistani won the final against Dittmar, who had beaten Norman in the semi-finals and there could have been no better recipient for such a historic trophy.
 
Thereafter the most conspicuous voice encouraging people to play the sport was the late Minister of Defence, his Highness Sheikh Salem Al-Sabah, an avid player himself, and one who personally financed the building of courts.
 
Another big step forward came when air-conditioned courts arrived, built by hotels. And so when Borchert returned thirteen years later Kuwait was a very different place. ”What a contrast to 1992,” he said. “It was a modern city, vibrant and alive wherever one looked. Squash too was also alive and kicking. However the title of the Kuwait Open revealed a rather sad story”.
 
Truly it was sad, yet elevating too. Although Sheikha Al Saad, a prominent member of the royal family, had not long before died so prematurely at the age of only thirty-eight, her name was to become linked to a life-affirming activity which had been dear to her heart.
 
A graduate with an active life in commerce, Sheikha Al Saad had been a great squash fan and a fine player. After all this was so puzzlingly wrenched away, it became the dream of her sister, Sheikha Fadyah Al Shabah, that her memory should be perpetuated.
 
That aptly happened with her name being proudly linked to the country's first international open squash championship, which was named the Sheika Al Saad Kuwait Open.
 
It was initiated in January 2004, with Sheikha Fadyah Al-Sabah as President of the Higher Management Committee which organised the $135,00 tournament with a see-through glass court imported from Boston, locating it on Green Island. It is to this magical place that we are returning for the Kuwait Men’s World Open 2009.
 
It was a debut event for the Women's International Squash Players Association World Tour in Kuwait, and was won by Rachael Grinham, the former World No.1 from Australia. The men's event was won by Peter Nicol, who represented both Scotland and England and won World Open and British Open titles.
 
The following year the winners were Nicol David, the Malaysian who is the most successful player of the modern era, and David Palmer, the Australian with a swag-full of World and British Open titles.
 
Squash in Kuwait made seven league strides again in the early weeks of 2007, when the Professional Squash Association, the Men's World Tour's governing body, signed a three-year agreement which was the biggest in the history of the sport.
 
Not only did this make the Sheikha Al Saad Kuwait Open one of the highest prize money events on the World Tour, with projected $172,500 prize funds for the next two years, it enabled the 2009 Men’s World Open to have a $275,000 prize fund, an all-time record.
 
“The PSA is truly indebted to Sheikha Fadyah Al Sabah for her vision and generosity in presenting this opportunity to squash,” said Robert Edwards the championships’ Technical Director as well as the then PSA World Tour Director. “Her achievement single-handedly lifts the standard for all to follow. Her efforts on behalf of Kuwait are enormous.”
 
When it came to it, the 2007 Kuwait Open at the Al Qadsia Sports Centre had, in dollars, even more than had been announced, a $200,000 prize fund, and for a while this was the world's richest. Its final provided some of the best squash of the year, with a dream match-up between the world's top player, Amr Shabana, and his 19-year-old heir apparent, Ramy Ashour, who took the title.
 
The women's final was a longer and nicely fluctuating contest, with the Nicol David needing fully ninety-three minutes to carve out a four-game victory over Natalie Grainger, the former World No.1 from the United States.
 
These events which Sheikha Fadyah has inspired have motivated many Kuwaitis since 2004, and the number of courts and players has been increasing. The results of the national team have improved significantly, and there have been benefits at other levels too.
 
People wondered how the Kuwaiti juniors beat Pakistan juniors in the semi-finals of the Asian Games, and part of the reason surely is that Rahmat Khan, the famous coach who was a mentor for Jahangir in his early days, has been working here.
 
And so we come to the first World Championships ever held in Kuwait, once again the Salmiyah Club and the Green Island, the spectacular artificial haven created in 1988, will be used.
 
More than 3,000 metres across and fully seven hundred and eighty-five thousand square meters in area, it has been formed by extending the main land, by surrounding it with natural rocks imported from the Al-Fujairah Emirate, and fortifying the sides with concrete cubes. Sand for its beaches was brought from afar. It is just located off the waterfront, which spans twenty-one kilometers of coastline from Al-Shiwaikh area to Ras Alard, and is linked to land by a passageway of one hundred and thirty metres.
 
With restaurants either side of the island, a swimming pool on the eastern side and with waters which ebb and flow with the tide, a 700-capacity amphitheatre, a thirty-five metre tourist tower, an ascending spiral stairway for walking enthusiasts, all adorned with l50,000 coloured shrubs and seedlings, it is a paradise.
 
The Kuwait Men’s World Open 2009 promises to live up both to this lovely venue and to the sport's very emotional history in Kuwait. Sheikha Fadyah Al-Sabah has built an international team of experts, with Paul Walters, the founder of the internationalSPORTgroup, as the Event Director and Robert Edwards, who said he was retiring in 2007 in Bermuda unless he discovered another Everestļ¾h. The ‘Voice of Squash’ has apparently found just such a mountain amidst the plains and beaches of Kuwait, for he has become Presenter and Technical Director.
 
Both are joined by the legendary Jahangir Kahn who is a major part of the organisation team too, ensuring that the championships has access to his extensive experience from three decades' travelling the squash planet. And as a pioneering squash champion in Kuwait, he has a connection to that profoundly special, painfully-earned freedom which has made it all possible.
 
The Kuwait Men’s World Open 2009 will be staged from the 1st to 7th November and boast prize money of US$275,000, the largest ever offered by any World Open or World Tour event. For more information about the first official sporting World Open Championship to be hosted in Kuwait which is a landmark in the country’s sporting history, visit the events official website: www.KuwaitWorldOpen2009.com
 
By Richard Eaton

It is not often that the history of any sport has a connection with the greatest moments in a nation's history. Even less frequently does that connection have a resonance which is understood by most of the planet.