“My roots remain very strongly in university sport and my heart is in university sport”
FISU’s Technical Committee Chair for squash, Zena Wooldridge was recently elected World Squash Federation (WSF) President, following the organisation’s Annual General Meeting.
After her impressive victory, with a record number of votes, FISU Secretary General-CEO Eric Saintrond congratulated Wooldridge on behalf of the FISU Family, saying “It (the election) is testament to her dedication and professional work in the past years, and the great expectations the world of squash has from her leadership.”
Great expectations indeed, as Wooldridge acknowledges during a phone call with FISU.
“It’s a big job ahead, but I have already been inundated with messages offering help and cooperation,” she says. “And that’s really encouraging for the sport.”
Prior to her election, one consistent message she received regularly was that the regional and national organisations wanted to be engaged much more effectively, and that there was a strong desire for the sport to come together with a unified strategy.
“This is what we need to do,” Wooldridge says of the task ahead. “Create a clear and simple strategy which engages regional federations and other stakeholders.”
The new WSF President sees FISU as an important stakeholder, given her long-term association with FISU as well as the importance she places on university sport and education.
Zena Wooldridge (3rd from left) with the FISU team on a World University Squash Championship inspection visit. “University-level squash will be an important part of developing this strategy,” Wooldridge tells FISU. “Young people and their education are really important to me. We need a much stronger presence of education and must engage more with universities.”
“Squash fits the university sector and students so well in terms of their lifestyles and sporting interests,” she adds.
“Education is important in so many ways, including in terms of dual career and anti-doping. Many different strands of education will be important, going forward.”
Wooldridge describes how her professional journey as a sports administrator started with British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), when she was first asked to run the English University Squash Championship several years ago.
“That was the start of my journey,” she says. “My roots remain very strongly in university sport and my heart is in university sport. I hope I will continue, if not strengthen, my support.”
“I am keen to increase the participation, the number of countries entering the World University Championship in the years to come, and we will look to see if we can get squash into the FISU World University Games programme as well.”
Strengthening the footprint of squash in major multi-sport events is one of Wooldridge’s top objectives, going forward.
FISU World University Championship Squash 2018 held in Birmingham“Although we’re not an Olympic sport, we are part of the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Games and Pan-American Games,” says Wooldridge who is looking forward to the next edition of the Commonwealth Games in her home city of Birmingham in the summer of 2022.
“Securing our place in more multi-sport events is important, as at the end of the day, those games are our very best showcase.”
Over her illustrious career, the Englishwoman has been involved in many multi-sport events across 55 sports but says squash has always been her real passion.
“I started playing squash in my teens, around the age of 14,” Wooldridge explains. “I played all through university but didn’t play professionally because my education and career were more important to me.”
“Now I have a chance to make a difference in the sport which is my true passion.”
Wooldridge takes over as the 10th WSF President and only the second woman ever to hold the position. A record 64 member federations attended the WSF virtual AGM, where members placed their faith unequivocally in Wooldridge’s hands for the next four-year term.
“Now I see my role as the conductor of an orchestra,” Wooldridge paints a vivid picture. “We have to have a symphony and make sure all the right people are engaged.”
There is a long road ahead, but the WSF President believes that the entire sporting world, not just squash, can come back in the New Year with renewed energy and hopefully get back to full competition calendars soon.
“I do think that we have to work to come back stronger,” is her message to athletes around the world. “Although they’ve lost time, I hope people will return when they can and that they’ll come back stronger, with renewed enthusiasm.”
“Hopefully we’ve gone through the worst (of the pandemic) and can look forward to all players being back and competing. And to spectators being back at events, as well.”