• Al-Ahram Squash Open NEWGIZA • 17-23 Sep 2016 • Cairo, Egypt •  

   Everything you didn't know you needed to know about the Al-Ahram Squash Open
#1: Mena House Hotel | #2: Le Lido City View  | #3: Squashing Al-Ahram


This trip has been full of emotions and energies, as you would imagine when a tournament is organised around/in front of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, The Pyramids of Giza.

Not only the monuments in themselves are overcharged with Historical Energy, images we carry from our childhood, from films, from a past buried deep inside us,  but the place had been chosen for energetic reasons, and the ground itself is charged with a special energy, you feel it extremely strongly, especially at night, when everything quiet
ens down…


... was pure madness.

Twelve matches on the three courts
at Le Lido City View, with no court for the players to warm up or hit on, a level of noise quite unheard of, from 12 to 5.15 end of the last matches (Omneya, Simon were the last I spoke to), no time to breathe, think or say hello to friends.

I found myself on the last shuttle bus trying to reach Mena House in order to take another shuttle bus to the Court for the first matches planned at 6.30.

If you have ever been in a vehicle of sort in Cairo at 5.20pm trying to go anywhere
, you will know how very unlikely we would to be on time up there… I raised my concern but from the back of the bus, I heard the voice of John Masserella, one of our two world Refs present in Al-Ahram “don’t worry, Fram, they cannot start without me”…

Cleverly, the plan was changed and the shuttle, after dropping Simon at the hotel – you have to pass in front of Mena House entrance to get to the Pyramids, yes, we were THAT close –
we went straight up the hill.

If 10 years ago, we could go freely up to the venue, now, you have to go through heavy security. Every day, our shuttle would be stopped, we would get out of the bus, with our bags, and go through the machines, to then climb up the hill a bit, and
rejoin our bus for the last leg of the journey.

A quick drive, less then 10m, but somehow felt too short, between the Pyramids. Every day, it was the same emotion, truly, that moment when you look on your left and baoum, you have those immense powerhouse
s standing there. A bumpy road, the driver has to go very slowly, and finally, you take a right, and you arrive at the venue.

It is HUGE.
years ago,  you were walking most of the time on the sand, but this time, it’s like a real city, with huge white tents and wooden lanes everywhere, with two entrances - one main audience, one VIP, both equipped with heavy security.

That first night was a bit panick
y as I didn’t have a clue where to go. Cubs had been there before – it hadn’t been simple as you need a special permit to get to the place before play – and knew his way. But he was in the previous shuttle and I was on my own.

Didn’t have a clue where to go first. So many different arches, ways. Thank Heaven my pass let me go wherever, so I finally found the way to the "White Sofa Zone". AKA the VIPS....

The atmosphere was as you imagine electric. As usual in Egypt, things were not, well, exactly going as planned and last  minute adjustments had to be made, putting all concerned in a state of panic. It looked a bit like a beehive, with a few Queens aroun
d, Headless Chickens probably more like...

I soon found the press room which had been arranged with a lot of computers and another sections with tables, that we used. Internet was working fine,
SquashSite was in place and happy.

As ever, I got my seat with a little note
scotched on it. People ask me why I don’t sit in the VIP section when in Egypt. Well, I like having the same angle when I watch a match, and I’d rather have a dedicated seat in the first row of the crowd – even if it’s challenging sometimes –than having to hop from seat to seat as the VIP do the whole night. It’s actually like a Ballet Musical Chair, which I enjoy every event in Egypt, watching who is sitting where, with whom, at what time

After the 12 matches of the afternoon, we had 4 more matches to cover, having no time at all to finish the previous ones. To be honest, I cannot remember who played, who won. I was like on automatic pilot, trying to reach the players, having to talk to them in their changing room, meaning having to time to type any kind of quote or report before the next match started.

 I remember that I finally started on the report Ramy/Meguid around midnight, a match played at 3pm, and probably finished the last report around 2.30am.

That's when I realised this event was going to be a bit of a tricky one...


From the second night onwards, it was plain sailing really. Watching the match, in the “main section”, then coming back to the “triage arch” to sneak in the VIP section trying to stay out of TV view, waiting for the player(s) to get to the changing room, at the bottom of the stairs right behind the court and right after the PSA/SquashTV Tent.

Chatting with the player(s), then going round  on the left via the sand bit to avoid going up to the court and disturbing everybody – that was a bit of a challenge with my knees and not much lighting.

Between the TV van, some piece of wood laying on the ground and the WIFI tower, but I got there – a little visit to the Best Toilets of the World Of Outdoor Squash!

You think I’m kidding, but if you ever had to cover an event “en plein air” outside in the field, you know how disgusting that place can quickly become. Ten years ago, I kept praying not to need to go. This time, it was a bit of a 1’30”” to myself really. Well done to whoever was running it. The Rest of the world could take example on that event for sure.

Internet worked as a charm – needless to say it was not done by snapping fingers, a huge tower was installed to get signals, and well, there again, spot on, not a trouble the whole time for us – I heard that SquashTV ran smoothly as well.

The food/drink area was a bit on a weak side. Only one outlet for coffee/bakery, and one for burgers. But people seem to manage. I even got John Massarella to offer me a green tea! That was the only warm drink I got the whole time… Sigh…

The volunteers – students between 18 and 25 - were pretty enthusiastic and always said yes. Action sometimes didn’t really follow bless them, but 90% of the time, they were helpful and efficient, speaking a minimum of three languages, which in our case was extremely useful.


“Appelons un chat un chat” as we say in French, “let’s say it clearly”, the event has been a huge success. It was done on a very small budget, all what could be cut as an expense was cut, I know it was anything but easy for the Federation and in particular Uncle Assem – Assem Khalifa, President of the Federation and Nassef George, Executive Manager.

They were trying to balance out the budget offered by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Khaled Abdel Aziz, who was at the heart of the project. They did wonders to be honest, and I think they are both going to sleep for a week!

Of course, the event couldn’t have happened without the support of NEWGIZA and its CCO Ramy Halabi CCO, and of all the sponsors that made this event possible. The fact that on the finals day, we have Two Ministers (Sport and Tourism) the Governor of the region, plus several dignitaries, proves how important this event was perceived in Cairo.

How not to mention Amr Mansi and his team – Omar El Sherbini, Nora ElGabry, George Hakim to name only a few – who were working in extremely difficult conditions, I saw on Mansi the first grey hair which I swear weren’t there in El Gouna!

They kept their smile with us for the whole duration, and their friendship is for me the reason why it was went smoothly…


What made it special was the sparkle in the eyes of every Egyptian player that came and played on that court. They all used the same expression – it is a dream come true. They all had stories from their childhood about Al-Ahram. They remembered the players, the atmosphere, Robert Edwards – who was presenting the semis and finals – the lightning, the magic of it all.

As for me. I did enjoy last time round, I remember having been forgotten in the field as I was the last one to leave and saved by Mohamed Menshawy – he and his wife have been my best friends in Egypt ever since – I remember the drama of Greg’s match balls and Jahangir telling me “if he doesn’t win that third, he is not going to make it”, I remember the hologram of Shabana on finals night apologising to his people for not making the final and I remember the feel of the Pyramids in the background…

But this time, the Pyramids were not in the background. They were THERE. RIGHT THERE. On your lap. Over you. Inside your soul. Overpowering you truly. And I must say that as the music started on finals night, I looked at the court, on the left, that Pyramid standing tall and eternal, on the right, the SquashTV screen with the “vue d’ensemble” the larger view of the whole venue, with the lights and crowd and depth and magic, I couldn’t stop tears coming from nowhere.

So to conclude, I’ll just steal Raneem El Welily’s words: “I just want to thank Al-Ahram, the Pyramids for being kind to me”. Nuff said.

#1: Mena House Hotel | #2: Le Lido City View  | #3: Squashing Al-Ahram

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