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The Women's Sports Alliance

PRESENTS...

Zena Wooldridge: Winning An Olympic Bid and Championing Equality In Squash

“This is a real game-changer,” World Squash President Zena Wooldridge tells the WSA. “The Olympics gives us an opportunity to deliver an exciting Games and be really creative but it also gives us a platform to grow, develop and capitalise on the opportunity.”

Zena Wooldridge - Squash Olympics

Image Credits: World Squash Federation


Squash is an Olympic sport. It is a statement generations of players and administrators close to the discipline began to believe they would never hear.


After failed bids ahead of London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 Games there was a growing acceptance that despite those many campaigns; each pushing for greater recognition of the sport, there may never be a positive outcome.


Then, on 9 October 2023 it was revealed that the Organising Committee for the 2028 Los Angeles Games had proposed its inclusion, which was subsequently officially ratified by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a week later.


There was delight, relief and also a degree of shock that after so many knockbacks their persistence had finally paid off.


Then there was the realisation that a new challenge had emerged.


Karate (Tokyo 2020) and Breaking (Paris 2024) have only received invites one Olympic ‘party’ before being unceremoniously dropped for the subsequent Games. Squash aims to stick around.


Following the momentous news about their Olympic inclusion the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA) spoke with World Squash President Zena Wooldridge about the significance of the decision and her new aspirations for the sport.


'The hard work starts now!'


Q – How did you find out about the news that squash was to become an Olympic sport and what was your reaction?


“I found out late on a Friday (6th October – three days before the news became public) when I saw an email which passed across my consciousness and I thought ‘I just have to read that!’


“It was a huge moment of excitement as we’d never been that close before, but we didn’t want to celebrate too much because we’d had our fingers burned before.


“When the vote came in, it probably created a greater degree of ecstasy across the whole squash community than with perhaps any other sport because of the fact that we've tried so many times and never quite made it over the line.


“There’s still a bit of a feeling of disbelief, but it’s amazing!”


Zena Wooldridge Squash Olympics

Image Credits: World Squash Federation


Q – How much of a ‘game changer’ could this be for squash throughout the world?


“I don't think it ‘could be’ I think ‘it is’.


“The answer is somewhat in our hands now because we know we can deliver and exciting and creative Games, but it also gives us that springboard to put sport on a new trajectory.


“It's not just the players at the top, who will now have the opportunity to say that they're an Olympian, but the squash community also has the opportunity to capitalise with the growth and development of the whole sport.


“We know we’ve done the hard work getting to the finishing line, but actually the hard work stars now as we need to work collectively to bring everyone together behind an even more ambitious common strategy and vision for the future.”


Q – Now the target is presumably to become an established Olympic sport and retain that status into the 2030’s?


“Absolutely and with that we need to remember that the decision on Brisbane 2032 will be made before the delivery of (Los Angeles) 2028.


“But it’s interesting because many of us thought we would have a better chance for 2032 than 2028, so we have already been working with Squash Australia.


“We know we’ll have to put together a very strong bid again, but we can use the position we now have, being an Olympic sport, to really accelerate the runway to 2032 and it definitely gives us that little bit more momentum!”


Q – Traditionally the Commonwealth Games has been the sport’s biggest global stage. With concerns about the future of that event, how important was Olympic acceptance to the future of the sport as a whole?


Zena Wooldridge Squash Olympics

Image Credits: World Squash Federation


“It absolutely is, as it (the Olympics) just gives a different dimension, but I think the Commonwealth Games will still remain hugely important to squash.


“I think the Commonwealth Games is an example of where in the current climate and whether we're talking about climate change or economic conditions, we need to be thinking slightly differently about how we deliver a Games.


“In the (recent) IOC session, there was a lot of talk about ‘Games optimisation’ and how we be both cost effective and a little bit more creative in how we deliver an event.


“I think squash is probably one of those sports that brings that element of flexibility, creativity and be adaptable because the glass court (setup) gives us the opportunity to develop an innovative approach.


“We can drop it into kinds of and environments, which is cost-effective and really one of our strengths which is partly borne out of being on the cusp of the Olympics for so long that we continued to innovate over the last 20 years!”


Q – You have also played an instrumental role in the #BreakTheBias campaign. Please tell us a little bit about your mission to improve gender equality in squash?

Zena Wooldridge Squash Olympics

Image Credits: World Squash Federation


“When I was president of European Squash, we did for one year have a majority female board that we're very proud of,” Zena tells the WSA.


“World Squash’ strategy, is a gender parity strategy and it’s very important because it not only includes players but also those in leadership too.


“We have a proposal, our AGM (annual general meeting) in a couple of weeks time, which will see the composition of boards rather than be a minimum 20% male or female, it will be 40% male or female.


“I came through when it was a very male dominated world and it was challenging at times, but it doesn't kill you makes you stronger and a learned a lot from the experience.


“I’ve built resilience and I was the youngest as well as the first-ever female chair of England Squash.


Zena concludes; “I do think it's getting easier for females to come through, but it's the responsibility of people like me to open doors for other females and help encourage them and pull them through.”

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