Squashing Sportsmanship

Elite game, known for its self-adjudication and players’ gentlemanly conduct, turns ugly at championship between Trinity and Yale.
February 24, 2010

Trinity College won its 12th straight national title in men’s squash Sunday, beating Yale University. But a Trinity player's unsportsmanlike behavior, displayed the world over, has tainted the historic win.

After winning the championship’s decisive match, Baset Chaudhry, Trinity’s senior captain, leaned into the face of Kenneth Chan, a Yale freshman, and yelled taunts at him. Then, after leaving the court to celebrate with his teammates in the stands, Chaudhry forcefully shoved Chan back onto the court to prevent him from exiting.

Video of the confrontation spread like wildfire on the Internet, eventually finding its way onto popular ESPN shows like SportsCenter and Outside the Lines. Now, Trinity is receiving criticism for Chaudhry’s behavior not only from those in squash circles but also from those with no prior exposure to the game.

“Part of what makes this interesting to people outside of the sport is that you have a squash player acting in a way that is contrary to the typical image of one,” said Kevin Klipstein, chief executive officer of U.S. Squash, the sport’s national body, which assumes an advisory role much like the United States Golf Association does to its sport. “People think of this as a gentlemanly sport. It’s a rare exception that you see behavior like this. That’s what differentiates this sport; unsportsmanlike behavior isn’t tolerated.”

Squash is one of the few intercollegiate sports in which players from participating squads referee themselves. They are responsible for ensuring that competing players follow the rules and conduct themselves properly during the match.

As Sunday’s incident took place after the completion of a match, it is now up to the College Squash Association, the sport’s governing body at the intercollegiate level, to decide whether and how to punish Chaudhry and Trinity. Officials from the CSA, which is run by coaches from member institutions, did not respond to requests for comment on possible sanctions. Still, there is pressure from the sport’s national body to take action.

“Some sort of message needs to be sent that this behavior is not tolerated,” Klipstein said. “The volume has been turned up way too high about this, and people need to know this is not part of the game.”

Regardless of any outside penalty, Trinity officials say they will take some action of their own. Paul Assaiante, head men’s squash coach at the Connecticut college, said he was not at liberty to detail how the college would punish Chaudhry, but said that something will be done soon. Tuesday evening, Trinity issued a press release stating that Chaudhry had apologized to Chan and his teammates, Yale coaches and CSA officials for his behavior.

Immediately after Sunday’s match, David Talbott, head squash coach at Yale, told The Hartford Courant that Chaudhry, a two-time individual national champion, should be barred from the upcoming individual championship in two weeks, also sponsored by the CSA. He also told The Yale Daily News that Chaudhry’s behavior was “pretty classless.” Still, some observers noted that Chan exhibited some unsportsmanlike behavior of his own during the match that provoked Chaudhry’s later outburst.

“My kid wasn’t without fault,” a more reserved Talbott said in a telephone conversation with Inside Higher Ed. “After a point he fist pumped a little and there was some jostling during the match, but it’s a physical sport and some of that physicality is not necessarily outside the rules. We wouldn’t be talking about this if it weren’t for what happened at the end. Other than that, you wouldn’t say the match was anything out of sorts. … But, I’ve been coaching for 27 years, and I’ve never seen an incident like that.”

An emotional Assaiante said Chaudhry’s outburst surprised him because it was so out of character for the player he has known for so long.

“One of the things we’ve always prided ourselves on here is how wonderful these kids are with this program,” Assaiante said. “[Chaudhry] has a 3.5 GPA. He’s won six national titles. He’s our poster boy and represents everything that’s good about sport in general. He had a lapse in composure for 10 seconds that he can’t have back and that’s being shown around the world. … For him to go out there and misrepresent himself that way, I feel bad for him.”

Assaiante said he has spoken extensively with Chaudhry since the incident, even helping the visibly upset senior regain his composure before leaving the court Sunday. He lamented that the outburst has overshadowed Trinity’s historic success in squash. It has the longest streak in the history of intercollegiate sports at 224 wins.

“We just won our 12th straight national title and we haven’t had a chance to celebrate it yet,” Assaiante said. “I feel badly for the school and for our boys.”

This has been a rough few months for intercollegiate squash and sportsmanship. In December, Dartmouth College fans created a scene at a match by shouting myriad sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks at members of Harvard University’s men's and women's squash teams. Dartmouth later apologized for its fans’ behavior.

“It’s both coincidence and a convergence of many factors,” Assaiante said, considering the two controversial incidents. “I love our sport, and I think we do it right. But, no question, we’ve had some ugly episodes this year. … People are taunting and holding fists across the net. That’s happening. There’s no justifying it, but we’re seeking kids buckling more under pressure and this behavior creep into the game. … We’re just going to have to look hard at ways to move forward in a clear and calm way and be able to manage these kinds of situations in the future.”


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