‘We must find innovative new ways to play, improve squash’s visibility and reach new audiences’
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Mark Williams has pledged to grow the game after being promoted from within the ranks to become the new Chief Executive Officer of England Squash.
Williams has been an England Squash staff member since 2008 and has held a number of key positions, including Director of Participation and Director of Sport.
He takes over from Keir Worth, who had been in the job since 2014 and stepped down recently to take up a new position as Director of Paddlesport with British Canoeing.
Williams’s appointment coincides with the reopening of squash courts this week to allow full, unrestricted play after a difficult year of lockdowns for the sport.
Williams has promised to develop the sport “by seeking out innovative new ways to play and increasing the visibility of the sport, so that we can reach diverse new audiences”.
However, he admits: “The immediate priority is to help the squash community recover from the impact of the pandemic, then we must grow the game.”
He wants to see a thriving, diverse and growing squash community. First of all, though, he will be monitoring the data from clubs to see how many players have returned to the sport in the next few weeks after 15 months of lockdown across most of the country.
Many club officials and industry experts are predicting a severe reduction in membership and activity levels.
In a wider context, local authorities may well be forced to close numerous sports facilities (including squash courts) because of funding issues caused by a drastic loss of revenue during lockdown periods.
Squash, being an indoor sport, has been hit harder than most. I understand that one major, multi-sport club has recorded a loss of £2 million over the past 15 months.
These are tough times for anyone stepping into the breach at our national federation, which has witnessed a collapse in playing numbers over the past 30 years from three million to fewer than 200,000.
England Squash issued the following media statement today:
England Squash has announced the appointment of Mark Williams as Chief Executive Officer. This follows a rigorous and open recruitment process driven by the Board and involving Sport England.
Mark joined England Squash in 2008 and held a number of positions before being appointed Director of Participation in 2014 and more recently Director of Sport in 2018.
Mark has been central in the leadership of England Squash over the past seven years, during which time he has played a significant role in reinventing the organisation as ambitious, forward thinking, and driven by values, improving relationships with major stakeholders and partners across the sport.
Mark has been responsible for key areas of the game across participation, coach development, talent and high-performance.
His work has included; leading the creation of England Squash’s first ever insight-led participation programmes, overseeing the creation of a network of talent and performance hubs, helping England Squash become the UK’s first carbon neutral NGB, setting up an Inclusion and Diversity working group to lead a radical change across the sport, introducing new online courses for coaches and volunteers, and overseeing preparations for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
As the new CEO, Mark will lead the delivery and implementation of the new strategic plan and fulfil the organisation’s vision to create a thriving, diverse and growing squash community.
Mark said: “I am thrilled to be taking on the role of CEO and feel extremely privileged to lead England Squash at this crucial time for the sport. Squash has so much to offer, in terms of physical and mental wellbeing, competition, personal development, fun, fitness and social, it really does offer something for everyone, and I want to ensure that more people benefit from taking part.
“The immediate priority is to help the squash community recover from the impact of the pandemic, then we must grow the game by seeking out innovative new ways to play and increasing the visibility of the sport, so that we can reach diverse new audiences.
“During my time with England Squash I have met so many great people that are doing a fabulous job to support the game and I know that by working together, the squash community will find the answers necessary to overcome the challenges we face. I cannot wait to get started.”
Commenting on Mark’s appointment, England Squash Chair Joy Carter said: “On behalf of the Board, I am delighted to welcome Mark to the role as CEO. Mark was the standout candidate from a high-quality field and brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the position, having spent the last seven years in senior leadership roles at England Squash.
“Mark is highly respected across the game and our partners, and is the ideal person to guide the organisation into a new era as we seek to rebuild the sport from the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working closely with him to deliver our collective vision for the sport.”
Williams’s appointment comes at a precarious time for the wider sports industry. Although squash clubs celebrated a return to full play this week, many courts owned by local authorities are at risk of closing.
According to an article published on the Sports Management website, one in three councils in England are expecting to close at least one of their leisure centres permanently during 2021.
This could have a potentially devastating impact on squash communities who rely on courts provided by local councils.
The article says that up to 117 centres could run out of money within months, while of those councils that are planning to keep all their facilities open, nearly 80 per cent say they will be forced to cut services back.
“The chilling figures come from a study by the District Councils’ Network (DCN) – a body representing 180 local authorities in England – and reveals the devastating impact of the pandemic on leisure centres.
“Other findings include that nearly a fifth of those councils expecting to have to cut services said they were considering shutting three or more leisure centres.
“Almost four in 10 said at least two would close in their area, while 19 per cent of councils say centres will go out of business within the next three months and more than half (59 per cent) within the year.
“In its analysis, the DCN says that while the government funding to support leisure centres during the pandemic has been helpful, it falls far short of plugging the £325m funding gap faced by district council-run leisure services.”
Sports Management: Full article here
Pictures courtesy of K Sports and England Squash