This article was originally published on January 5, 2016.
Yet another year has passed with no success in the sport which Pakistan once dominated for nearly fifty years: squash.
How many teenagers are growing up with the drive and ambition to be the next Jahangir Khan or Jansher Khan, I wonder.
How much of this is related to a lack of resources and poor administration, and how much is it related to a lack of enthusiasm from future sportsmen?
'Take the sport seriously'
Recently, former World No. 1 Jahangir, said that after playing with young Pakistani players such as Nasir Iqbal and Farhan Zaman, he realised that they possessed the skill and technique to become champions, but fell short on discipline.
“Both Nasir and Farhan are blessed ones as they have been getting a huge financial and technical support from Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF). The PSF is playing its role quite effectively, now it is the players’ turn to pay back. During our times, we never had such luxuries. We had to train for long hours alone, unlike these young players, who have an army of coaches, free tickets to participate in the PSA events and TA/DAs. We had to shoulder lime share of expense at our own,” he said in an interview with the The Nation.
Terming the two, as well as other youngsters such as Israr Ahmed, Mehran Javed and Aoun Abbas as ‘brilliant’, Jahangir went on to urge both the PSF and the players to take the sport seriously.
For Jahangir, it was all about focus. “I urge the players to remain completely focused on improving their skills and forget about wasting their time on off-the-field activities if they want to become champions of the game.”
Jahangir, of course, has been all about overcoming hurdles through sheer will during his career. Because of the unfit state of his health in his younger years, his doctors had recommended that he avoid physical activity.
In 1979 after being passed over by selectors for the World Championships in Australia, the future great registered in the World Amateur Individual Championship and became the youngest winner at the age of 15.
The same year, Jahangir’s older brother, Torsam died of a cardiac arrest at a squash tournament in Australia at the age of 27. Initially, Jahangir wanted to draw the curtain on his career, but later continued as a way to pay tribute to his brother, yet again finding his way out of a personal crisis through mental toughness.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Jahangir went on to have a glittering career, and is widely considered to be the best squash player of all time with his great rival Jansher close behind.
Players like Jahangir and Jansher are born once in a lifetime. But at the core of their legendary careers was an unrelenting will to train; sometimes in extreme conditions. The current crop of players can follow their blueprint but clearly they can’t get by without state-of-the-art support.
As the former giant James Willstrop writes, athletes of any sport have to be more refined in this age, “Standards of training and professionalism are so advanced, and each sport takes on greater specific demands. Each athlete is finely tuned to their own sport.”
Some young players, including the budding squash star Farhan Zaman, left Pakistan to settle for a smoother life in the US. Zaman only recently returned but there have been disillusioned players who haven't turned back.
Other potential champions have refused to attend training campaigns, unhappy with the PSF for missing out on the World Open Championship in the US, and annoyed at not having been paid what they were promised. The PSF, on the other hand, denies there is a payment dispute.
For its part, the Pakistan Air Force-financed PSF has been making an effort to improve the nation’s international standing in the sport. Impressively, the PSF managed to convince the Professional Squash Association (PSA) that Pakistan was capable of safely hosting international tournaments, resulting in a championship taking place in the country where top players from six nations participated.
The PSF President Air Marshall Sohail Aman Khan has been endorsed by the legendary Jansher Khan, who has termed him as a “sincere and committed man.”
Jansher also feels that young Pakistani squash players need to work harder. “Pakistan has immense talent for squash. Skill-wise our players are unparalleled but their physical fitness levels are yet to touch the international standard. Squash is a game which demands consistent hard work and training. There is no room for complacency in squash. We will have to make our players physically and mentally tough.”
Jansher does sees light at the end of the tunnel, and feels that the PSF will turn things around soon.
Maria Toor, who won the International Women’s squash Championship and Nash Cup titles, and Israr Ahmed, who brought Pakistan the Asian Junior Squash Championship crown, were the brightest spots for the country in the year that passed. Additionally, our players did participate in over 50 international tournaments and improved their rankings in 2015.
It may be a long, arduous road, but it is still not too late to hope for Pakistan's next world champion.