Squash Player's Ian McKenzie gets to know the new Chief Executive of the World Squash Federation, William Louis-Marie
This article first appeared in Squash Player Magazine – their latest issue is out now.
The appointment of William Louis-Marie as chief executive of the World Squash Federation came as a surprise – it was a little ‘left field’ – but after speaking to the Frenchman, I could see it was a job he had been preparing a long time for.
Louis-Marie has always loved sport, but his career has been not so much a journey in sport, but one to sport. He can therefore bring greater experience and some perspective from previous roles to his new position.
Growing up in the suburbs of Paris, Louis-Marie inherited his love of sport from his father, who was from the French West Indies (Martinique), worked in the military and travelled in France, Africa and the West Indies. An international volleyball referee, he introduced William to football and volleyball, and was a big boxing fan.
Louis-Marie played football and rugby, before discovering tennis and squash at summer camps in Bath in England, where he was sent to learn English. “I liked the athleticism and energy required in squash,” he explains.
Later he took up karate, which he participated in at high school and at the Sorbonne University, but he kept playing squash as well. “I remember that Pakistan was the top nation then,” he recalled. “We had a member of the Khan family (Shah) come to Paris to teach us.”
He also got involved in basketball. “Sport was always part of my education, but I didn’t focus on just one sport,” he added.
Louis-Marie studied economics at school and university, and later communications. “I loved the news on TV, newspapers and magazines. This was my interest. I wanted to become a sports writer and so I moved to study communications,” he explained.
Louis-Marie had family in Colorado, USA, and visited many times as a youngster, developing a deep interest in American culture and sport in the process.
“In the 1980s I read a lot about American culture and American black culture, enjoying authors like Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. This was perhaps one of the reasons I was able to join Coca-Cola, where I became communications manager. The fact I knew about American culture was a great plus.
“I went to the Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta for Coca-Cola, which is still one of the main sponsors of the Olympic Movement. I was able to sit next to [200m and 400m gold medallist] Michael Johnson, enjoy the [American basketball] ‘Dream Team’ and the great sporting action.”
Louis-Marie has had a number of general marketing and communications positions. As well as Coca-Cola, he has worked for a coffee company and helped launch Trace TV in China, but in the middle of his career he moved to more sport-specific roles.
“Sport is my passion and I am able to bring experience from these other roles to sport,” he explains.
He worked on the inaugural European Games in Baku and later moved to the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
“I joined as communications director and later I was appointed executive director,” he said. “My role was to promote boxing and manage the international federation. We had a staff of 20 and an annual budget or $5-6million.”
Squash will be different. Louis-Marie knows the resources of the sport are limited, but he seeks opportunities and sees some cohesion.
The PSA is the “cherry on the cake”, he says, and plans to build on the memorandum of understanding that the WSF already has with the professional players’ body.
He sees plenty of synergies. The PSA needs a vibrant and growing sporting environment to operate in and new players. He sees the stronger national associations helping the smaller ones and doesn’t see squash’s position as a small international body as unique.
“We are not FIFA with a few hundred members and a huge budget,” Louis-Marie said. “We need to be different. PSA is one of the main complements of squash in the future. We have to understand each other and work on different activities together, but be clear on our objectives and our common ground.”
The aim is to promote, develop and grow the sport. He would like to see greater participation in events like the World Team Championships, sees great potential in China, reckons the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as a great opportunity and would like to relaunch the mixed-teams World Cup.
It will be a challenging role. At a personal level, his new interest is yoga and meditation may be the perfect, stress-free complement as he grapples with the challenges facing the sport with optimism.
“Squash is a fantastic sport and I play it. I am here to help the sport grow and enter a new era,” he says.