Amr Mansi, photography by Omar Mohsen
Currently in its sixth year, the International Gouna Squash Open Tournament is running until April 14. We sit down with squash champ and organizer Amr Mansi to talk about his role as a sports ambassador and his dream of turning Egypt into a world sports tourism hub.
Do you think Egypt has a competitive edge when it comes to sports tourism? Which sports do you think can bring in visitors?
Yes, of course, as long as there are people who really love this country and are willing to promote its right image. . . . If given enough support, the Gouna Squash tournament will be a leading event all over the world. There are numerous places in Egypt that are perfect for sports activities.
I did not know Samih and Naguib Sawiris personally before organizing the tournament. They decided, however, to support the idea only to help their country. These sponsors do not offer all this support only to have the logo of their companies included in ads about the tournament. They believe in the idea and in their country. The other thing is that for people to come from other countries to attend the tournament is not something that should be taken for granted.
This is your sixth year organizing the tournament. What are the challenges you’ve faced over the years?
The problem is that squash is not very popular in Egypt compared to other sports, even though we organized five very successful international tournaments in the past five years. Egypt is also ranked among the world’s top countries in that sport.
Raising the funds was the biggest challenge. Sponsors wanted to support a popular sport that would serve their businesses, which is why convincing these sponsors to invest in me when I had nothing to offer them was the hardest thing. I spent about six months trying to convince Orascom. I also spent six more months trying to convince the World Squash Federation. I managed to [pull together] funds for the event only ten months before [the set] date. It wasn’t a simple task at all.
Before we started, we did not have any resources or the funds necessary to hold a press conference. The media did not care, because squash was not that popular back then, even though [that year, 2009] Egyptian squash player Amr Shabana had won the World Squash Championship.
And how is the state supporting you?
The organization of squash tournaments here was limited to Al-Ahram Institution, which founded the Ahram International Squash Open in 1996. It was impossible for a squash player like me to organize something as large as the Gouna Squash Open without having the money and the support necessary for it. So, growing from absolutely nothing to such an amazing success over five editions and preparing for a sixth edition is a real miracle. This year, the tournament will be aired live by more than 30 international TV networks. Squash lovers in 88 countries across all four continents will be able to watch it.
Financially speaking, we receive support from both the Tourism Ministry and the Youth and Sports Ministry. They provide us with the necessary facilities. They are also responsible for security arrangements. The two ministries help us get permissions for certain procedures. Youth and Sports Minister Khaled Abdul-Aziz has been offering us wonderful backing since he came to office in 2014.
Investing in Gouna is the right step at present, given the wonderful weather there and the security too. Gouna is a perfect place for an international event like this. It helped us get the necessary approvals for the event from the authorities very easily.
You had a new squash court put up for the tournament in just three months. Tell us about that.
I asked construction giant Orascom to implement the project in three months because I believed that the tournament is rapidly growing and I had hopes to organize tournaments for both men and women. When the World Squash Federation decided to move the tournament from Malaysia to Egypt, I immediately discussed the matter with Orascom Chairman Samih Sawiris, and asked him to start constructing the squash court. Of course, we had to complete the project before the launch of the tournament.
How did you convince investors like Samih and Naguib Sawiris to come on board?
They were amazed by everything in the tournament. Samih developed a strong interest in it when he attended the second edition. He saw the success of the event, which was why he started to personally get involved. He believed that organizing such a competition in Egypt was just a good thing for the country.I really would like to thank both Samih and Naguib Sawiris who believed in the idea and provided me with the necessary support to make my dream to organize this international competition come true.
What about your own goals?
Not goals, but more like an obligation to support Egyptian champions who reach top positions and win prestigious prizes everywhere in the world. I want to support my country by organizing an international competition that will definitely attract large numbers of tourists. I also want to support the sport I love. By focusing more on the business aspect, I believe I can serve squash, as a sport, and my country in a better way.
What new ideas are you bringing to the tournament this year?
This year, we have the Orascom Development PSA Women’s Championship, which offers $165,000 in prizes. We also have a tournament for squash fans above 35 years of age. The tournament is organized on the sidelines of Gouna Squash Open.
What other sports can bring in tourists to Egypt?
The successful model of Gouna Squash Open should be replicated. This is what I want to do right now. I thought, for example, of organizing beach volley tournaments as well as an Arabian horse championship. et