For those ruing the decline of squash in Pakistan, the year 2018 turned out to be an eventful one. After a long time, a large number of world-class players were seen in action in different cities of the country at Professional Squash Association (PSA) events.
The Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) and its affiliated units, particularly the Sindh Squash Association (SSA), deserve accolades for staging no less than 11 PSA competitions in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, with millions of dollars in prize money to help revive the glorious past of the game.
According to PSF officials, Pakistan achieved a milestone by organising the highest number of PSA events (11) in a year across Asia. In doing so, Pakistan also achieved the honour of playing host for most PSA events in the world after the US (28), Canada (21), Australia (14) and England (12). The total amount of prize money offered by Pakistan in the 11 PSA tours was $229,500 (approximately Rs32m), more than half of which — $127,500 — was contributed by Sindh.
Thanks to the lovers of the game and icons such as Jahangir Khan, squash is pulling itself up by its bootstraps in Pakistan
The hosting of events, particularly in Karachi, was made possible through the personal interest of squash maestro Jahangir Khan who wants to motivate the youth in order to revive yesteryear glory.
Karachi has remained a major hub of international squash activities for long. Before the coming up of the PN Roshan Khan-Jahangir Khan Squash Complex in 1991 and the Asif Nawaz Squash Complex at DA Creek Club in 1993, it was the PIA Squash Complex which remained at the forefront of all squash activities here. A number of legendary players had the honour of playing there in PIA Masters and the Pakistan Open, among other competitions. Pakistan also had the honour of hosting the World Open at the PIA Squash Complex in 1984. In 1993, the World Open and the World Team Championships were also held at the Asif Nawaz Squash Complex in 1993. Pakistan once hosted the World Team Championships, too, at Islamabad in 2005.
It is worth mentioning that in 1993 the two JKs — Jahangir and Jansher — were riding on the crest of a wave as Pakistan had swept both the individual and team titles before a home crowd. Jansher clinched the world individual title inflicting a 14-15, 15-9, 15-5, 15-5 defeat on Jahangir in an all-Pakistan final. The world event had also marked the end of a glorious era for the 10-time former British Open champion, Jahangir.
Unfortunately, Pakistan suffered heavily in sports after 9/11 due to the refusal of foreign players, and teams’ refusal to come here due to security concerns. But concerted efforts by the PSF, the personal rapport of Jahangir Khan, the able support of the security agencies and the role played by sponsors has made it possible to once again see a new dawn for the game, which is as dear to Pakistanis as cricket and hockey.
The foreign players who came here in a large number recently included the former squash great Geoff Hunt. All who came were full of praise for the facilities and the arrangements made by Pakistan while also expressing their ‘satisfaction’ about security. All in all, players from 17 foreign countries, besides the hosts, featured in three mega events at Karachi — the DHA Cup, the Pakistan Open and the 13th CNS International Squash Championship — held between November 20 and December 10, 2018.
The foreign countries whose players featured in the events in Pakistan included Egypt, Malaysia, Kuwait, Qatar, Hong Kong, Iran, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Mexico, France, Spain, England, Peru, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Finland and the United States. The former world No 1 and the ninth-ranked Karim Abdel Gawad of Egypt and the world No 12 Diego Elias of Peru were the main attractions in the Pakistan Open because of their PSA rankings.
As expected, the top two seeds set up the men’s final and enthralled the audience with their skills. Gawad laid his hands on the trophy as compatriot Yathreb Adel was crowned the women’s champion in all-Egyptian final, her opponent being Nadine Shahin.
Unfortunately, instead of applauding Pakistan’s rich contribution to the game and efforts for its revival at home, the PSA has now imposed a security fee of $5000 per event. The PSF, in a statement, has termed this ‘absurd’ as Pakistan is as safe as any other country of the world which is evident from its having hosted so many PSA events last year.
Meanwhile, Pakistan had an excellent start in 2019 by winning the Asian Junior Squash Championship at Pattaya, Thailand, in January. The triumph helped Pakistan regain the title after six years. The victorious team comprised Farhan Hashmi, Abbas Zeb, Haris Qasim and Hamza Khan.
The Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, who also heads the PSF, feted the victorious team immediately on their return at Islamabad. Terming the last two years as “great” for Pakistan squash, he said that the country bagged 58 medals (27 golds, 13 silvers and 18 bronzes), which speaks highly on the part of the players and their coaches.
For his part, squash celebrity Jahangir Khan has been focusing on the youth and is behind running a regular coaching programme for boys and girls at the PSF-Jahangir Khan Academy, and the PSB Coaching Centre, in Karachi where players, who are selected on merit after trials, also receive stipends and sports gear. This process, which is continuing since the last few years, has led to some fruitful results already as its players have proved themselves in different age categories at the national level. The SSA has turned out to be the most active affiliated unit of the PSF and is leaving no stone unturned to take the game to new heights again. It is hoped that this grassroots input and facilitation will once again help raise Pakistan squash to the place it once held among squash-playing nations. But for this to happen, young squash players who desire to scale new horizons will also need to increase their efforts.
It is ironic, however, that the Jahangir-backed SSA is still not recognised by the Sindh Olympic Association. As usual, this reflects poorly upon the country’s sports affairs.
The writer is a member of staff
Published in Dawn, EOS, February 17th, 2019