BY LEE HORTON
PSA squash stars James Willstrop and Daryl Selby, along with more than a hundred young players from Essex, have been forced to down rackets due to Donald Trump’s controversial visit to London.
The US President’s three-day stay in the UK has meant a massive security operation and in a bizarre set of circumstances, an exhibition match between Commonwealth Games medallists Willstrop and Selby has had to be cancelled after the courts they were due to play on were converted into sleeping space for police offices from around the country drafted in to look after Trump.
The Off the Walls Squash academy, based at the Colchester Garrison in Essex, has had to suspend all squash activities for six days meaning none of their 120 academy members can get a game. It also means a week’s loss of earnings for the full-time squash coaches based at the Garrison.
OTWS were informed on Monday evening at 8pm that the courts were being commandeered and that they had to be out of the premises by 2pm Tuesday. That sparked a hectic round of telephone calls and emails informing everyone that all this week’s squad coaching was cancelled and the bad news that six months of planning to stage the Willstrop-Selby exhibition had gone out the window.
To say that Karen Selby, OTWS’s secretary, was left slightly stressed by the news would be an understatement. “I honestly thought it was a wind up,” she admitted. “To get a call at 8pm to say we has to cancel everything for six days was a real body-blow.
“We have six courts at the Garrison and they were all fully booked out for individual lessons and squad training this week. James Willstrop and Daryl were coming here on Saturday to train and mentor our young players ahead of an exhibition match which we have been planning for six months. Everything was meticulously planned, then we received the phone call. It’s safe to say that everyone is disappointed, none more than all our coaches who basically lose a week’s income. That’s a tough ask for anyone these days.”
And it’s not only squash that has been hit by the closure. The Garrison is home to more than 30 other sports clubs including football, basketball, swimming and netball teams. All have been told the place is closed for business.
The decision to house police officers at the Garrison has sparked a political row after photographs of the accommodation were posted online. Some officers are now facing disciplinary action after the photos of the spartan sleeping arrangements were shared by John Apter, Chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation, which represents some of the rank and file officers brought from the south coast.
He tweeted: ‘Prisoners arrested last night will have had better accommodation than those police officers ensuring the Presidential visit runs smoothly.
‘Police chiefs who talk well-being of their people need to take a long hard look at this. This is not acceptable.’
It is said around 300 officers are staying in the gym, with some complaining of freezing cold showers.
One twitter account said to that of an officer from Manchester said police couldn’t charge their phones and were still sorting beds late into the evening.
The National Police Chiefs Council said: ‘Some of the accommodation pictured today for officers supporting the major operation for the US Presidential visit is not acceptable and below the standard of other accommodation for this operation. Essex Police is working at speed to resolve the issues for the affected officers.’
LATE NEWS: The Willstrop-Selby exhibition has now been switched to Ipswich Squash Club