Squash players confident sport will get the nod to join Olympic program in 2020

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TORONTO - Egyptian squash star Ramy Ashour has won a world title, posted victories at World Series events and is the top-ranked men's singles player on the planet.

And he would give it all up to get to the top step of an Olympic podium.

"For us it's everything. For us it's our pinnacle," Ashour said Thursday. "Everyone would trade their lifetime career (for) one gold medal."

Ashour is working with squash officials to support their bid to join the program for the 2020 Games. He's featured prominently in promotional material and will be on hand for bid presentations in the spring.

The IOC will vote next September to add one sport. Karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboard and wushu are also in the mix, along with a joint bid from baseball and softball.

Squash officials trumpet that their sport is played in 175 different countries, its top athletes would participate at the Games and that a portable court could be set up beside any iconic venue in the host city.

"The youth aspect, the legacy, the health, the Olympic ideals of faster, higher, stronger. It ticks all these boxes," said world No. 2 Nick Matthew of England. "I think we could slip in seamlessly ... the sport is ready to go at the drop of a hat."

The sport has also made great strides to make the game more television-friendly after previously coming up short in the Olympic bid process. Whether it's enough to move to the top of the contenders' list is the great unknown.

"It's the big push, I think it's going to be the final chance," Ashour said. "If it doesn't get included this time, I'm not sure we'll have another chance."

The World Squash Federation felt last December's IOC inspection visit at the Hong Kong Open was a success. The WSF has proposed 32-player draws for men's and women's play at the Games on all-glass courts.

Reports will be delivered this May to the IOC Executive Board, which will provide the final recommendation. A final vote of IOC members will confirm the successful candidate in Buenos Aires this September.

The 2020 host city will be chosen at the same meeting. The candidates are Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo.

Ashour, who serves as a squash ambassador with top-ranked women's player Nicol David of Malaysia, is confident their sport will get the nod.

"It's quite interesting to watch the different styles, the different personalities and the fight on court," Ashour said. "And the competition — it's an unbelievable competition on court. I believe people would love it."

Ashour and Matthew were in Toronto this week to play in the eight-man Cambridge Cup, a $60,000 invitational event organized by Canadian No. 1 Shahier Razik.

Both fell in semifinal action — Ashour dropped a 3-2 decision to Mohamed El Shorbagy while Amr Shabana of Egypt downed Matthew 3-1. The all-Egyptian final was set for Thursday night at the Cambridge Club.

Notes: Razik is also trying to bring back a major Pro Squash Association tour event to the city. He has had initial talks with the PSA and is hoping to land a late 2013 or 2014 date. ... The last top-flight Pro Squash Association event held in this country was the Canadian Classic, last played in 2008 at the John Bassett Theatre. Ashour defeated Shabana in the final. ... The women's tour will make a stop in Toronto next month. The $10,000 WISPA Mayfair Cup Open will be played March 18-23 at the Mayfair Lakeshore Racquet Club.

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With files from The Associated Press.

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