The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Toronto event not on 2009 Pro Squash Association tour, could return in 2010

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TORONTO - The Canadian Classic squash tournament has been put on the shelf this year due to scheduling issues and the lack of a title sponsor.

Event promoter John Nimick confirmed Wednesday that he will focus his efforts on bringing the top Canadian event on the Pro Squash Association world tour back in 2010.

He said an internal decision was made to take this year off, begin a comprehensive search for a new title sponsor and try to return the Toronto event to the tour's top tier of tournaments.

"Partially we're stepping back because economically finding lead sponsors is harder today than it was a year ago," Nimick told The Canadian Press from Boston. "But also in a good way we're able to ask internally within the Toronto squash community for greater support to get Toronto into a position where it will be one of the top 10 or 15 events in the world going forward."

Nimick plans to meet with potential sponsors and community members early next month. He's hoping to eventually book a date for late February 2010 in the heart of the tour's expected swing through North America.

Pace Savings & Credit Union's five-year run as main sponsor ended last year after Ramy Ashour defeated fellow Egyptian Amr Shabana in the final at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's John Bassett Theatre.

Nimick said he had "five wonderful years" with Pace and that the sponsor felt its objectives had been achieved. He added the two sides still talk even though the sponsorship has concluded.

"It doesn't mean that they might not be involved in some way in how the tournament goes forward," Nimick said. "But at the moment we completely have an open book on looking for a new lead sponsor."

Last year the tournament's purse was US$60,000. Nimick believes it would take another $100,000 to reach the tour's Super Series level, which would bring in all of the tour's top players.

Another option is to remain a second-tier event with a small hike in prize money, which would bring in a good percentage of top players.

A late February date would also prevent a conflict with the British National championships, an event traditionally held in the middle of the month. Top players like James Willstrop and the recently retired Lee Beachill skipped the Toronto stop last year to compete at home.

In addition, the PSA has undergone a restructuring in recent months as it tries to reach a greater global audience.

Richard Graham spent seven months as chief executive officer before leaving at the end of last year. He was replaced this week by former player Alex Gough, who has led the tour's development projects since being named chief operating officer last summer.

Helped in part by a resurgence of top players from Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysia, the tour has blossomed outside of North America. Cities like Cairo and Doha, Qatar are hosting top events with prize money well over the $100,000 mark.

The PSA had no immediate comment on its scheduling plans for a future Toronto date. Only a handful of events are posted on the tour calendar for the second half of 2009 and none for 2010.

Nimick said he considered holding the event in the second half of this year before deciding to pursue a date next year.

"I think it makes more sense for us to get completely onto a positive, forward track to grow the event and not put something together that would be less than world class in 2009."

Nimick added he is also considering a return to Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place), which hosted the tournament for five years after its debut as the YMG Capital Classic in 2000.

Jonathon Power beat archrival Peter Nicol in the final of the inaugural event. The Canadian retired from PSA competition in 2006 but still works to promote the tournament and served as players' chairman last year.

The Toronto resident said the event will be missed this year.

"I think it's disappointing a little bit but it's sort of a sign of the times," Power said. "Especially in the squash world, it's such a financial game, it's tied directly to that with the sponsorship dollars. I'm doing a lot of work with the kids and obviously the juniors miss it the most, seeing the top pros in the world and talking about it and playing it up.

"But I think it'll be on as soon as it can be on and be affordable to get those (sponsors) back again."

Notes: - Nimick is considering adding a legends draw when the tournament returns. Power, 34, who still plays national events, said it would be fun to participate. . . . The 2009 national squash championships will be held in Calgary this April.

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