Eternal candidate, but always rejected, squash has won its place at the Games. At long last. It is entering through a side door, as an additional sport. Before, perhaps, taking a more permanent place.
Its first taste of the Olympic world will be at the Los Angeles 2028 Games, an event that is less likely to see it take its place than Sydney 2000, London 2012 or Paris 2024. The Californians have chosen it as the only individual discipline, among a quartet of team sports made up of flag football, cricket, lacrosse and baseball/softball.
William Louis-Marie, Director General of the International Squash Federation (World Squash), spoke to FrancsJeux.
FrancsJeux: How do you explain the choice of squash as the only individual discipline among the additional sports at the Los Angeles 2028 Games?
William Louis-Marie: Squash and its entire community – players and officials – have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. We have to thank the IOC and the Los Angeles 2028 Organising Committee for putting their trust in us. We’ve been working with them for a year and a half in a very collaborative way. Why squash? To bring something different, something that matches their values of innovation and leaves a legacy. Our sport today represents real diversity. One of the biggest tournaments in the world has just been won by a New Zealander in the men’s draw and an Egyptian in the women’s draw. We are present on all five continents.
This is not squash’s first attempt to get on the Olympic programme. Why have you succeeded now, for Los Angeles 2028, where your arrival did not seem the most obvious?
Perhaps because it wasn’t obvious, and we took our chances. But things are changing. Squash has been developing over the last 5 or 6 years. The professional circuit brings in the best players from all over the world. The quality of images and television broadcasts is improving all the time. Squash is also reaching more and more people on social networks. We saw this recently at the world junior championships. Perhaps it’s because we weren’t expected that we were able to work calmly with the LA 2028 Organising Committee and the IOC, and showcase all the qualities of our sport.
What message did you try to get across to the American organisers?
We tried to understand what they expected from a new sport, which is not yet at the Games, but has long been present in the Olympic movement and in a large number of multi-sport events, such as the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the Pan-American Games. We demonstrated our expertise and knowledge of these multi-sport events. We also emphasised our ability to bring in the best players in the world, thanks to our collaboration with the Professional Soccer Association (PSA). The people from LA 2028 came to see us at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (photo above). They saw the exceptional spectacle of two players battling it out in a glass cage for 30 minutes or an hour. Los Angeles is the capital of entertainment, and the spectacle of squash fits in well with their values. We also put a lot of emphasis, with the American federation – US Squash – on taking advantage of the Games to bring squash into the communities.
What changes will this entry into the Olympic programme bring for you?
A lot. The athletes now know that they will have the opportunity to take their place on the finest sporting platform in the world. That’s a fantastic incentive. National federations will be able to negotiate more effectively with their National Olympic Committees to obtain funding for programmes for coaches and officials. For our part, we are going to have additional resources, by working with sponsors, to further improve the production of our events.
What could the venue for squash at LA 2028 be?
We don’t have all the details yet, but we have ideas for an indoor theatre, where squash could be beautifully showcased in a glass court, with an exceptional number of cameras.
For Brisbane 2032, the terrain looks even more favourable…
Australia has a real history with squash. It has had great champions, world gold medallists. We were there recently for the World Junior Championships. Being present at Los Angeles 2028 will give us leverage to discuss Brisbane 2032. But we need to take things slowly. We’re going to work on Los Angeles 2028, without trying to rush things. England is also a great squash country, but we weren’t selected for the London 2012 Games.