History of Squash in NZ

The Peak? The eighties

Life Member Michael Sumpter has been one of the most progressive and experienced administrators Squash New Zealand has been fortunate to have during its history. Involved with the management committee for a number of years, he was President in 1972 and 1973 and has provided advice and assistance for over 35 years, including the last twenty-five as Honorary Solicitor. His following summary of the exciting period for Squash during the eighties was published in the Jubilee booklet.

Prior to 1980, with the exception of professional coaches who had made their own contribution the sport in this country was basically amateur but this pattern changed when at the 1979 meeting of the ISRF in Brisbane the sport became open. Before this decision of the ISRF the amateur and professional sides of the game had co-existed but in New Zealand the emphasis was on the amateur although Bruce Brownlee and Murray Lillie after the World Amateur Championships in Canada in 1977 had made their mark as professionals.

The six year period of New Zealand providing the ISRF officers who were responsible for the administration of the sport throughout the world finished in 1981 and by then Murray Day as Chairman had gained respect as an administrator throughout the world. He and his fellow officers had laid the foundation for a growth in squash so that it was well established in all worldwide regions. His achievements entitle him to the ranking of the Administrator of the half century, although the pioneering efforts and dedication of Roy Haddon and others were an integral part of subsequent developments.

World Championships

Two World Championships were staged here during the 1980's. The first one in 1983 was based at the Henderson complex which also played a significant part in the women's tournament held in 1987. The latter stages of the individual event in that year were in the YMCA complex on the clear view court which the Association had acquired as a partner in a commercial venture with the Harvard Group.

As championship directors, Rod Sturm and Susie Simcock were able to attract enthusiastic and efficient committees whose efforts successfully led to both championships receiving glowing tributes from visiting players, officials and administrators. The time and dedication blended with humour and understanding of the requirements of top-class professional athletes typified the spirit of New Zealand administrators in their willingness to give their time and energy without seeking reward or accolades.

The National administration faced more challenges and demands than in any previous decade as the high profile of the sport with its world stars created new dimensions. The National administrators responded to these challenges and the sport was well served by the various presidents who held office, supported by other management committee personnel. If any one individual deserves a special mention it had to be Bill Murphy who served as the country's first paid official as Executive Director between 1979 and 1986. His grasp of the needs of both world-ranked players and the grass-root members of clubs throughout New Zealand and his willingness to both be available at all times for consultation and advice, whether he was in his office in Tauranga at the time or attending a major championship were just some of his attributes.

It has to be acknowledged that the growth in new clubs was not a feature of the 1980's although some of the premier clubs such as Henderson in particular have facilities that are fit to rank with any comparable facility in any part of the world. At the same time they have provided a hospitality and atmosphere that have been envied by many overseas visitors.

Denied true greatness

If Susan Devoy with her two World titles, five British Open crowns and Ross Norman with his 1986 World Title triumph were the great achievers (in the eighties), Stuart Davenport who attained third ranking in the world must not be overlooked. All three made an impact beyond their mere playing achievements. Devoy with her speed, agility, drop shots and incredible will to win had not lost a major title since her first British Open win in 1984 before she stumbled in 1989 in Holland in the World Championship final. Although Norman has been overshadowed by Jahangir and subsequently Jansher Khan in the world arena his World Title in 1986 and his other achievements due to his consistency, skill and courage have made him the country's best ever men's player.

Stu Davenport

Both Devoy and Norman accepted the responsibilities of being world champions in a manner befitting their titles. Davenport was perhaps denied true greatness by a physique that was probably not best-suited to the rigours of the sport at its top level with its great demands on fitness but his natural talent arguably surpassed both Norman and Brownlee. He and Norman, at their peak, too seldom clashed at home and when they did Norman was usually the victor. However, for this writer probably the most sparkling and fascinating match seen in New Zealand was in the teams championships final in Hamilton 1986 where after over two hours, which saw both players use all their skills and finesse in a wonderful exhibition with barely a dull rally, Davenport prevailed.

Capable leaders

Six Presidents led the association in extremely capable fashion during this very active period, all as the culmination of lengthy involvement with management, namely Michael McCarthy (Dunedin), Bruce Davidson (Wellington), Andrew Doig (Palmerston North), Michael Greig (Auckland) and Alan Watton from Napier.

Great kudos

Although individual achievements were the most spectacular in the decade, the National teams competing in the world championships gained great kudos. The men's team finished runners-up in 1985 and 1987 to Pakistan on each occasion. This contrasts with the earlier championships in the period when fifth was the norm. Although the women finished third in 1987 and 1989 the gap between them and England and Australia, who finished ahead, was slight.

In accordance with the country's policy, junior teams participated in their world events with distinction even if their results suggested that the country's competitors matured later than some of their international rivals.


Squash undoubtedly benefitted from the media publicity it attracted in this period and television accepted and recognised that the sport could attract the interest of both the devotees and the general viewing public. Radio coverage expanded while the print media also was well served by enthusiastic and skilled journalists.

Such publicity was essential for squash to maintain a high profile and attract sponsors who were an essential part of the modern sporting environment and success.

A future projection

Michael Sumpter concluded his coverage of the eighties with the following:

"The challenge of the 1990's is to provide players to emulate Devoy, Norman, Davenport and others and to avoid the fate of some sports which tend to reflect on the golden years rather than plan for the future that lies ahead.

This may not be as easy as it sounds as the sport has suffered some decline in popularity for a variety of reasons. Although great encouragement has been given to juniors for many years the drop out level is disappointing although probably inevitable.

Whilst one factor that has undoubtedly attracted many sports men and women to the sport has been the opportunity to be involved in competitive play in either tournaments or interclub this may not be the dominant feature of squash, as we head towards the year 2000. It is possible that this emphasis on competition may lead to too great an intensity that discourages some. As leisure becomes more and more essential in the day to day life of New Zealanders a greater element of relaxation should be encouraged.

The need to attract the young and in particular school children from intermediate age onwards is already being recognised. The development of the micro court could well provide the introduction to squash which will provide the base for ensuring that the second fifty years of the NZ Association's history will not only retain the present high image of squash, but lead to even greater consolidation and success."

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