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Peter Nicol defects to England 2001

Peter Nicol

© SNSpix

Despite being a nation of modest size, Scotland has contributed significantly to the world sports stage.

To nurture and grow top athletes and competitors is far from easy. In addition to the natural talent and determination required from the individual, both the coaching and the practice facilities have to be, at the very least, respectable. Money is a factor in securing these vital resources but even with everything in place there is no guarantee of success.

Eight months prior to the opening of the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame on St Andrew's Day in 2001, Scotland had lost a world champion.

On 21st March 2001 at a press conference called by the Squash Rackets Association, the English governing body for the sport, the Saltire was being swapped for the St George's cross. Scotsman Peter Nicol, born in Inverurie but living in London, announced that he was taking advantage of the residency rule and would pledge his sporting allegiance to England.

As the son of a former squash coach, it was no surprise that Peter Nicol picked up a racket and made progress within the sport. His strong work ethic combined with his talent saw him break into the Top 100 Squash players within a year of reaching the Professional Squash Association (PSA) rankings. Nicol was ranked 52 in January 1993 but by November 1994, he was in the top 5.

1994 was a memorable year, starting with reaching the Final of the British Open in January. In September he competed in his first Super Series final (comprising the most prestigious tournaments in the game), the Hong Kong Open, in which he lost to world No.1 Jansher Khan. The season culminated in victory at the US Open that November. The following year the defending champion reached the quarter-finals but progressed no further; however he returned to form that same October to take the Canadian Open title.

Even at this time, Nicol's relationship with the Scottish sporting bodies was not ideal. He was competing for Scotland and was proud to do so but felt he lacked support, feelings he would not hide when he switched to represent England.

Peter Nicol with Commonwealth medal

© SNSpix

In 1997 Peter Nicol won four events on the PSA Tour having reached eight finals. That April his miserable record in the British Open (he had failed to win a match in the previous four attempts) was put aside as he reached the final. He lost out in a memorable encounter with Jensher Khan who defended his title in a match that lasted over two hours. 1998 would bring Nicol his first British Open win and, together with reaching number one in the rankings in February, two long held ambitions were realised.

Squash made its debut in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. The world number one took the men's gold medal. Ambitions continued to be realised but one remained – the world open title.

Egypt was the venue for the world tournament in 1999 with the Great Pyramids of Giza as the backdrop to the open air court constructed on the sand. Peter Nicol participated in his third consecutive final and his first win came as he swept aside home favourite Ahmend convincingly in straight sets. Having been recognised in the summer honours list, it was Peter Nicol MBE who accepted the world open trophy.

Having won gold in Malaysia in 1998, Peter Nicol was a Scottish medal prospect for the Manchester Commonwealth games of 2002. He remained a medal prospect after his decision was made public on March 21 2001, but it was now for the host country.

Peter Nicol

© SCRAN

Peter Nicol had lost only once while representing the country of his birth 67 times, although harmony between player and those running Squash in Scotland was often lacking. Both he and fellow Scottish player Martin Heath had refused to play for Scotland on certain occasions. At the heart of Nicol's grievance was his belief that Scottish Squash did not properly support him. Nicol's patience ran out and he did what many Scots would consider unthinkable – he joined the Auld Enemy.

At the press conference at which he discussed his reasons for switching sides he said "I have played for Scotland since I was a young junior and there has never been a great relationship. This is not down to money, but to the support I am given. I've never had any support from Scotland - some of the support which I will be given by England, I could never afford to pay for myself. The analysis of video tapes, the physiotherapy and sport psychology support at events that I will get from the English programme are invaluable. It's 10 or 11 years since I've been a professional athlete and I never got that from Scotland."

Peter Nicol was unhappy at the way in which he had been treated and felt money was being wasted, "For funding to go to people who are never going to win medals makes no sense to me". England could provide the back-up he needed due to their impressive squash programme, the residency rule allowed access and he took it wishing to ensure his time in the game could be extended.

The split was both immediate and final. Sportscotland had the right of reply “Peter was offered the opportunity to become a Scottish Institute of Sport athlete which would have made him eligible to receive a comprehensive range of athlete services including physiotherapy, sports science and sports medicine support. He chose not to take up this offer.”

Peter Nicol required the Scottish Authorities to sanction his availability to play in the Commonwealth Games in 2002 for his new nation. They agreed to the request, the sporting thing to do, and Nicol went on to the final but won silver not gold for England.

The rights and wrongs of the defection could be analysed and debated almost endlessly but the truth comes in various shades depending from where it is viewed. It is rarely black and white. In the case of Scotland and Peter Nicol one fact is undisputed, Scotland lost the services of a world champion.

Written by: Paul Mitchell



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