By Alex Wan
Getting a court to play squash in the more popular public venues such as Kallang or Yio Chu Kang has been a major challenge for a while now. For those who are familiar with the booking system, the peak slots are usually booked within minutes they are released on ActiveSG platforms.
It has almost boiled down to a game of chance for the regulars who continuously try to get a court. For those on a long-term pass, it is virtually impossible, given that the courts are released a day earlier for citizens and permanent residents.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, private clubs and condominiums are also restricting guests into their premises, further amplifying the problem.
In this second part of the two-part series, we hear from participants of the Tech Mahindra SGSquash Novice Tournament how challenging it has been for them to find a court to play their newfound sport and their views on the facilities available to the public.
“We try to book courts to play every Sunday afternoon. Considering the difficulty, we have to set an alarm to book immediately when they are open for booking. Even then, we are not able to get them half the time. I hope there are more slots available to public or even better, more courts are built”, said Crystal Lai, who frequents the Kallang Squash Centre.
Singaporean Colin Ng, who plays at the Yio Chu Kang courts, said, “We play in Yio Chu Kang sometimes, but it is very difficult getting courts there. Even when we try to book two weeks in advance, these days, it’s quite impossible. I can’t think of other ways to solve this except to build more courts and most definitely, don’t demolish the Kallang squash Centre.”
Vivek Kumar used to live in a condominium where he had access to a court, but since he moved, he now has to rely on public squash facilities. Like Colin, he too plays at Yio Chu Kang when he can, but not as much as he’d like to. “When I can, I will play on early Saturday mornings. Any other time is quite impossible to get a court. I find it generally quite tough to find a court to play these days,” he said.
Some however, are lucky enough to have a more flexible working arrangements that allow them to be hitting the courts in mid-day or even in the mornings. This is more apparent in this pandemic season given that many are working from home.
One such person is Czech Ales Bulir, who usually plays at the Kallang Squash Centre once or twice a week in the mornings or over lunch. While he has no major problems getting courts, he feels the centre could do with a little touching up, unaware that it is slated for demolition.
Kim Freitag from Switzerland is also one who occasionally plays at the Kallang Squash Centre and sometimes, St. Wilfred courts. Given the flexibility of his work schedule, he is able to plan his squash around it. He shared, “I heard they want to tear down Kallang and I think that would be a real shame.”
Kim also shared that back in Zurich, he plays in a private squash club, so the public courts here do seem a little run down in comparison.
Local player Low Zhende plays at the British Club and in condominiums. While he has access to these facilities, he still believes there aren’t enough courts on the island.
“I know that my friends who do not live in condominiums or have club memberships have trouble getting courts. They have told me it’s very hard to get courts to play.’
Fellow Singaporean player Low Xi Zhen also frequents the British Club, but feels that more courts are needed: “I wish that there were more squash facilities in Singapore. Most courts are in clubs and not many condos have courts. I also feel there are only very few public courts, so accessibility to the public is not great.”
Hawaii native Mark Chechin is lucky enough to have a court in his condominium but also feels the facilities could be better and more facilities are made available, especially when there is a plan to demolish the Kallang Squash Centre.
NJC student Wanyan Yuxuan, who played in her first tournament at the novice event also shared that she doesn’t play in public courts because it’s inconvenient for her. She said, “So far what I’ve seen is there aren’t that many and they’re not everywhere. There’re hardly any near where I live, so I don’t play at the public courts since they’re quite far away.”
Apart from the novices at the tournament, active social squash groups have also been hit hard by the lack of public courts.
One such group is the Angry Birds. The social group, which is helmed by Cecilia Lee, is by far the biggest squash community of the republic that has players from novices right up to ex-national players.
Using the MeetUp application as a platform, it boasts over 1,000 members from all walks of lives. School-going children, university students, housewives, grandfathers, directors of multi-national organisations and professionals, including frequent business travellers who are looking for a game of squash, all gather here purely to enjoy the sport.
Having hosted their ‘club nights’ a few times a week at the Kallang Squash Centre for many years now, the unavailability of courts has posed a real headache for Cecilia. With as many as 30 people turning up for a session at its peak, the group has been reduced about 10 now with the lack of courts, plus Safe Distancing Measures – that is if they actually get the courts.
The growth of the group has been remarkable and an envy to many proper squash clubs in the republic. But the lack of courts is foreshadowing to a natural death of the group, and if the demolition of the Kallang Squash Centre does go through, that would certainly be a nail in the coffin for them.