Footballers, Cricketers, and many other sports players experience it on a match day, but few once a tournament is under way. We are talking about finding out you are not on the team. In many sports often a player does not find out he is a substitute or the twelfth man until a few hours before the game, sometimes in the changing rooms, although these days it is often much earlier than that.
If a squad has been announced to participate in a tournament players always hope they will be a part of the team that takes the field, but in some sports where you are paired with a player to participate in a tournament, you are almost assured of taking part, or so you think.
A few weeks ago we spoke to Australian squash player Zac Alexander about his long journey back following hip surgery last year, which resulted in a six month lay off from Squash. He talked of the climb back up the rankings, how he is now ranked up in the 100’s due to his injury lay off but is hoping to surpass his world ranking high of 36th. He talked of how his wins in the Rochester Pro event and Greenwich Open in the USA had shown he was on the right track. He was also ecstatic to be playing in the Commonwealth Games and to be paired with his room mate Ryan Cuskelly.
However in a disgraceful turn of events, despite being in Glasgow and ready to compete, on Wednesday morning Zac had to pack his bags and leave the village because an appeal by Matthew Karwalski had seen the Court of Arbitration in Sport rule that he should have been selected, ahead of Alexander. The decision was based on Karwalski’s higher singles ranking; but obviously did not take into account the six month lay off Alexander had had to endure following his operation.
What makes the water even murkier in this situation is that former World Number one David Palmer – who we also had on the show- is Matthew Karwalski’s coach. Palmer retired in 2011, but the 38 year old was lured out of retirement to play for Australia to try and claim the one medal missing from his collection, a Commonwealth Gold medal.
Palmer not surprisingly supported Karwalski’s claims to be on the team and apparently wrote letters stating that he felt if paired with Karwalski that he could win a medal; the two having won a tournament playing together in Darwin last year. Except Palmer will not be playing with his protege, he is paired with Cameron Pillay. Karwalski will play with Ryan Cuskelly.
Alexander was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying ” Matt will play with Ryan, who I’ve been training with, living with doing everything with, for the last seven years. We’re best mates and know each other back to front and would have been a great partnership, and Matt doesn’t get on with anyone else on the team really, apart from Dave who’s his coach. He’s done nothing but weaken the team if anything.”
He went on to say “It’s our Olympics. It’s literally what you play for. The annoying thing was after the World teams last year when they chose Matt ahead of me, they sort of said to me, ‘just cop this one on the chin you’ve got the Commonwealth Games coming up next year. Then for this to happen its brutal.”
Alexander packed his bags, booked his own flights back to the US where he is based and after three days in the Games Village quietly left. Chef de Mission for the Australian team Steve Moneghetti described the way Alexander handled the news as “Outstanding.” He went on to say “if you talk about people and the way they conduct themselves Zac Alexander has been exemplary in the process – exemplary. The way he accepted it was so professional and strong. An incredible young man.”
Obviously there is an appeal process for athletes who feel that they have been wronged by not being selected, but surely once the team has departed for an event and have settled in the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games village it is a point of no return. There is no way that an athlete should be removed based on a selection appeal, once they are there and focussed on competing. This is a very poor reflection on Squash and also sadly the processes in place for such appeals.
Cuskelly took the court with Karwalski and they beat Sri Lanka in their opening match and have since beaten New Zealand and Norfolk Island in circumstances which have been described as “tense.”
Cuskelly was reported to have told the Sydney Morning Herald that the situation was “unfortunate” but “we have to get on with things.” He then said “The decision was made (Zac) knows he’s got my support.”
Sport can throw up friendships that last a lifetime and despite these testing times it would appear that these two young men have a friendship and a professionalism that should make all proud. All athletes want to perform on the big stage, and if they can do it with a mate then so much the better. Hopefully Australia will get the chance to see Cuskelly and Alexsander perform on the court as a team in the not too distant future. Hopefully when we do, we will give them both our full support, and let us hope that they prove a point; that they should have played together at a major tournament earlier.
In the meantime let us hope that the powers that be learn from this situation and change the processes to ensure that it never happens again. As the timing of this decision has not shown squash or sport in general in a very good light at all.