Tauranga is set to host New Zealand’s largest squash festival ever, with some of Oceania and the world’s best players competing in three major tournaments.
The 2023 NZ Festival of Squash begins on December 5 and involves three separate championships, with more than 400 athletes from 30 nations to compete.
The event is expected to attract thousands of spectators and TV audiences across the globe and deliver more than $1.4 million in gross economic benefits to the region.
More than 200 volunteers and 200 support staff will be involved in making the event a success.
The festival gets under way with the three-day Oceania Junior Championships from December 5, with 141 athletes to compete at the Devoy Squash & Fitness Centre and Mount Maunganui Squash Club.
The draw features more than 50 international players from around the Pacific, as well as 90 from Zealand, including a host of Bay of Plenty juniors.
The Lucino Vanities NZ Men’s Open and Barfoot & Thompson Women’s NZ Open will be held from December 5 to 10 on the state-of-the-art glass court inside the Mercury Baypark Arena.
The world-class field of 24 men and 24 women includes Kiwi top seeds Paul Coll (world number four) and Joelle King (world number eight).
The third tournament is the World Squash Federation’s Men’s World Teams Championships at Mercury Baypark Arena from December 11 to 17.
It will feature around 100 of the best athletes from 24 nations from all corners of the globe, including defending champions Eqypt, eight-time champions Australia and five-time champions England.
The Kiwi men’s world team also includes Coll and his Commonwealth Games teammate Temwa Chileshe and older brother Lwamba Chileshe, as well as Elijah Thomas from Auckland.
This biennial tournament was last hosted by New Zealand in 1983.
In a statement, an excited Coll said he was looking forward to getting back to New Zealand and playing in front of a home crowd.
“Last year’s [Festival of Squash] tournament in Tauranga was fantastic, and I’m expecting another great event this year,” he said.
“There will be a really high level of aggressive squash on display. It’s always a really fun tournament ... I’d encourage everyone to get involved and support us.”
In a release, tournament director Wayne Werder said the athletes competing are the “best in the world” and there are also a lot of up-and-comers, so there were “quite a few” future Olympians.
He said the festival would provide a ‘fantastic pre-Christmas boost” for the local economy.
Werder said last year’s NZ Squash Open contributed more than 4000 visitor nights and a gross benefit of $1.4m dollars to the local economy.
He encouraged the local community to support the event and athletes by buying tickets: “Come along to enjoy this world-class show.”
A Squash New Zealand spokesperson said given this festival had a far bigger programme of tournaments, they expected a “decent jump” on the 2022 economic benefit figures.
Squash New Zealand chief executive Martin Dowson said hosting a world championship in New Zealand was “special and unique” and the festival would inspire the next generation of future Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes.
“We take great pride in making sure all the players and officials have an amazing experience.”
Tauranga and world squash legend Dame Susan Devoy were buzzing about the festival.
The World Squash Federation vice-president and Squash NZ board member told the Bay of Plenty Times for her, Tauranga hosting these tournaments is like a“a dream come true” - particularly, the WSF men’s world teams championships.
“We will be treated to an absolute feast of squash, with the best men in the world playing for their country. This event will showcase the best of the best, and we’re privileged to able to host this event.”
She urged people - whether they are die-hard fans or have never seen a live squash game before - to pop along and watch “some of the fittest and most skilful athletes” in the world.
Tauranga City Council commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said it was thrilling for Tauranga to once again host the 2023 Festival of Squash.
“The opportunity to promote our beautiful city on an international stage is one we relish.”
Last year’s Festival of Squash attracted 1254 visitors, including 92 international guests, and generated $621,450 worth of visitor experience in the region, she said.
Tolley said the council was supporting the 2023 event with $100,000 of funding for promotional and branding around the city such as banners, signs and removable artwork at Tauranga Airport.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Oscar Nation said this event would give the local economy a “significant boost”, with positive flow-on effects for accommodation, hospitality, retail and tourism operators.
“It will also give our city and region valuable exposure to global networks and media coverage.
Tourism BOP was providing destination imagery and promotional support, he said.
The state-of-the-art glass court matches at Mercury Baypark Arena will be broadcast on Sky TV TBC, and the Oceania Junior Championships will streamed on Squash New Zealand’s website.
To buy tickets to the events, visit the Festival of Squash website.
Sandra Conchie is a senior journalist at the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post who has been a journalist for 24 years. She mainly covers police, court and other justice stories, as well as general news. She has been a Canon Media Awards regional/community reporter of the year.