Squash: David eager to follow in Billie Jean's footsteps

Nicol David, the squash great whose nine-year stint as world number one may never be surpassed, wants to follow the example of women's sports pioneer Billie Jean King when her playing days are done.

Although the 33-year-old Malaysian reached the quarter-finals of the British Open on Thursday and may still challenge for titles, she has been inspired by the tennis legend who led the fight for prize money parity and campaigned for women's rights in a wider way.

"I really hope I can do something a little like what she has done for her sport," said David, who spent an hour with the American before the Windy City Open squash tournament in Chicago last month.

"She is the power of women's sport. Without her pushing the cause women wouldn't be where they are now," she added, acknowledging King's influence beyond sport.

"She has paved the way in all sports at various levels and in every field to give their best. Billie Jean fought for a lot of other rights as well. She is very motivating."

David follows King's philosophy that women have to prove they are just as good at entertaining as anyone, and need to believe in themselves that they can make this happen -- by envisioning it, dreaming it and working every day towards that dream.

- 'Push for recognition' -

"Billie Jean asked me what do you see?" David said. "How do you see squash progressing in the future? Where will be a good place to start?"

David spoke of her conversation with King during a week in which the British Open is offering women equal prize money for the first time in its 88-year history.

"It just shows that there is a push for recognition we deserve and we are going forward in the right direction.

"I am very honoured and grateful that Doctor (Assem) Allam (the British Open sponsor, who took the tournament to the northern city of Hull, where he is the owner of Premier League football club Hull) is promoting this cause, and gives us more potential to push this cause, men and women together."

Whilst David is not in any way attempting to compare herself with the vastly experienced King, 73, she certainly seems well-placed to promote the cause of women's equality in other areas.

Not only has she become one of Asia's most famous sportswomen, she is already well-known for fund-raising campaigning well beyond sport.

She has joined campaigns by UNICEF, the United Nations children's charity, and devoted her time and celebrity to raise funds for many causes, including aid for Japanese tsunami and earthquake victims.

Whilst campaigning more diligently than any other squash player for improved prize money for women, David has spoken with corporate executives, promoters, and organisations around the world.

Right now David feels America is not just where equal prize money for women began, it is where squash can accelerate its take-off, as tennis did.

"They have more facilities and ground-work with their policies," she said. "If we approach major corporations and they want parity in what they specialise in, it helps."

The US Open became the first squash tournament with equal prize money in 2013, after which the Tournament of Champions in New York and the Windy City Open followed suit. Next year parity is likely to be mandatory at all World Series squash tournaments.

"It's a difficult job to manage both men and women together, so it's a matter of formulating what's needed for the women," said David.

"But Billie Jean showed that it's all logical. It's nothing new, but everything makes sense. It's true that we deserve what we are trying to do. We can do it."