Emily Whitlock tackles some tough questions about the reality of life as a professional Squash Player.
How do professional Squash Players make their money normally? and how has Covid impacted players earning ability?
“Players make money from doing well in tournaments they play in – if you get to your seeded position or worse you actually lose money, after paying for hotel and flights etc. For example, if I had played El Gouna in April this year, if I had flown out to have had one day’s practise (which is the minimum players have to practise for a platinum event) and got to my seeded position of 17/32 I would have actually made -£11.60. And no, the minus symbol isn’t a typo haha. So you have to constantly do better in the big events. Now that draws and seedings are done like the mens where you can get two 17/32 seeds playing in the second round, this means more lower ranked players are going to be given the chance to get through the rounds of some of these bigger events so more ranking points and money is up for grabs. Because the thing is, if you don’t manage to get to quarter finals of these tournaments, you don’t get much exposure. No exposure means no sponsorship opportunities, which is another way players can earn money and with the top players getting more sponsorship they get even more money, even though they’re doing well in these bigger events and so the gap in which players are making decent money is even greater..
Leagues and exhibitions are another way players can make money. But again, if you’re higher ranked, you get people calling you up, whereas if you’re lower ranked, you have to call people. It’s like you’re having to beg for money, which I don’t like to do. I’m also not in an ‘on tour clique’ and so I don’t have any on tour ‘friends’ recommending me. Quite often you’ll see the same people getting all the league teams and clinics etc, and that’s not a coincidence.
COVID has obviously affected everyone’s stream of income, but to what extent is different for everyone, which I can’t comment on.”
How difficult has this period been for you personally and for your fellow professionals?
“I can’t speak on behalf of other players but for me, I am not funded by a governing body, I don’t have any private sponsors because I live in an area that doesn’t have a huge squash reputation for the sport and with all I have explained in the first question about earning practically nothing, I’m living at home and my family own their our health club, which had to close during lockdown and is losing members as people aren’t fully ready to come back to train at the gym. I’ve basically just been there 24/7 to try and help out with everything, but it’s stressful. I’m injury free which is nice, but me not being able to play the first two events back due to not getting the correct info from PSA about isolation after events and not being able to get proper insurance for Egypt – which I’m 99% sure no one else from the U.K. had by the way – I think I’m suffering big time, alongside those not ranked high enough to get in any of these events.”
What are your concerns moving forward for the wellbeing of professional squash players?
“Those who have played events and who are ignoring the rules about training should mentally be stable as they’re just going about their business. For someone who is doing everything properly, I’ve not been OK sometimes. My concerns are with those who may have to give up and get a job with regular income because PSA haven’t been bothered to get more lower ranked events on for players. By going ahead with the World Tour Finals, for those top 8 who get decent money anyway and not getting lower ranked players events, for those who don’t naturally make as much money as the higher ranked players, has been something a lot of players have been complaining about and obviously that will have a negative affect on their mental health. All everyone can do is get on with their own thing and hope the tour calendar evens out soon.”
What support is being given to players right now and how does that work?
“We get emails about working with mental health coaches/psychologists and the We Are One Fund has been set up to get players who are struggling some funding, which has been great as I did receive some money from it. But to learn that higher ranked players have been donating to it is a kick in the teeth. My colleagues are basically helping me to survive and I felt a bit put out by this, whilst also being really grateful for money coming my way as I have zero income at the moment, so my pride has taken a back seat for now haha”.