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Squash has to get younger to grow bigger

A small but appreciative audience enjoyed a squash match between two showmen Monday night at the Riverbend Athletic Club.

Shahier Razik, Canada's top-ranked squash player, shared the court with Ireland's best player, John Rooney, in a best-of-three exhibition match that was as entertaining between points as it was when the rackets were swinging.

Quick to offer a tongue-in-cheek question to the official's call when it didn't go his way, Razik -- a national champion in 2006 and 2007 as well as a Pan Am gold medallist in 2003 -- kept his audience amused all night.

In the end, Razik put the jokes aside long enough to prevail over Rooney 11-9, 8-11, 11-6.

Razik admitted prior to the match that the objective in this sort of setting is always multifaceted.

"Exhibitions are always a little bit of squash, a little bit of fun," the 31-year-old Torontonian said.

Razik and Rooney are in town for Squash Canada's Edmonton stop, where they'll join other members of the Canadian pro circuit in the 2008 Servus Credit Union Edmonton Open, which starts today and runs through Dec. 7 at the Royal Glenora Club.

As a professional squash player since 1993, Razik said that squash in Canada is enjoying a resurgence in recent years.

"It's picked up a lot over the past four to five years," he said. "It boomed in the '80s, slumped in the '90s, and then in the early 2000s started picking up and, now, we have this Canadian circuit all over Canada. After the U.S., I think we have the most tournaments." Jeff Sneyd, the general manager and squash pro at the Riverbend Athletic Club, was excited to have pro players back on his courts.

Earlier Monday, the pros gave an instructional session with some young squash players. Sneyd said that gaining the interest of the youth was an important part of growing squash locally and across the country.

"Basically, the game needs younger people to find out what it's all about," he said. "Racquetball, handball aren't as popular and squash seems to be growing in the States and South America." If the sport can make its way into the 2016 Olympics, as Razik, Rooney and Sneyd hope, they think the game would reach new heights.

"(The Olympics would bring) tons more exposure, more funding, more media, and the money will just filter down to all aspects of the game. That's crucial," Razik said.

"It'd make a massive difference for squash," Rooney added. "(Squash in Ireland is) one of those sports that doesn't get the coverage it deserves.

Participation-wise, it's very big." While both Razik and Rooney are optimistic that their sport will join the major international stage in eight years' time, don't count on seeing either of them playing for their respective nations should that day come.

"I'll be way too old," Razik said, gesturing to Rooney. "We talked about that." "We'll be coaching them," Rooney interjected.

"We'll be coaching them," Razik continued. "For us it'd be such a good thing. It'd open up a lot of opportunities, more stuff to do within the sport.

For now, there's just not enough money filtering down.

"The money now just goes down to the players, it doesn't go down to the coaching, the management. Hopefully, it'll open up new positions and will give us something to do later on."