Squash was my first love. I have fond memories of coming back from school and waiting eagerly for the clock to strike 4pm so I could jump in the car with my father and accompany my him to Services Club where he would play tennis (which I grew to love later on) and the younger crowd like my self would run towards the squash courts queuing up so that we could take turns playing in the court reserved for kids. I was fairly good for a 6th grader and continued to build up my game until I was in college. Unfortunately I couldn’t play squash regularly after that because of, well, life moving on and shifting of priorities. My love for the game however remains, and I still go to the courts sometimes to hit ball even if I don’t have anyone to play with me.
Squash has traditionally been a sport that us Pakistani’s have excelled at. We had the great Jehangir Khan who won the World Open six times and the British Open a record ten times. Between 1981 and 1986, he was unbeaten in competitive play for five years. During that time he won 555 games consecutively, the longest winning streak by any athlete in top-level professional sports as recorded by Guinness World Records. He retired as a player in 1993 but still has a respectable voice in the squash circuit. Here is a great compilation of best of Jahangir Khan performances:
We then had Jansher Khan who is also widely considered to be one of the greatest squash players of all time. During his career he won the World Open a record eight times, and the British Open six times. Here is a clip showing the greatest moments in Jansher Khan’s career:
The reason why I bring up these two legends is because I came across a piece yesterday – a rather sad article pointing out that fear of failure is the reason Pakistan will be skipping out on the under 21 World Cup. The article also mentions that according to a source:
“Pakistan are already lagging far behind top teams even in the men’s game. In the women’s arena they simply don’t have any good players.”
“PSF chiefs discussed the invitation at its executive committee meeting in Islamabad. They weighed all the pros and cons before deciding that it was better to skip the event because Pakistan had no chance of doing well in it”
According to the World Squash federation (WSF) Chief Executive Andrew Shelley, “Pakistan simply didn’t enter (the World Cup),” and that “There was no qualification requirement and they would have been a very welcome addition”.
Here is also another similar article published in The Nation explaining how Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) banned three of the top squash players in Pakistan for underperforming – yes, underperforming- at World Mens Team Squash Championship in Paderborn Germany in which Pakistan finished at 22nd. According to the article, the players who got banned include Asian games gold medalist and top player of the country, Aamir Atlas Khan, Yasir Butt and Waqar Mehboob while another player Nasir Iqbal was given strict warning for the future. Let me take here to moment to point out that these players were banned for underperforming not because they did something illegal or unsportsmanlike.
There was a lot of chatter after this ban was announced (by various squash lovers like my self) to ban the federation and players should form their own committee. It was a little bit heartening to see that there were indeed sane people out there also who agreed that PSF took irrational step when it banned its top three players. However the sad fact is players cannot ban the PSF and form their own committees. A majority of players from Pakistan are from very poor families and once they are selected to be part of a squad (including juniors) they receive payment and this supports their family. Airforce has traditionally been the institution that is behind the PSF and it receives funding from various bank sponsorships, which is then further forwarded to the players in the form of a retainer. They do not have the skill set to organize committees by themselves or hire coaching staff or look for sponsors by them. From where I see this, the sad fact of the matter is that players cannot exist without the federation and big positive steps need to be taken by the Pakistan Squash Federation to bring this entire situation out of this mess.
What concerns me after reading these two news articles is the message that is being indirectly (or maybe even directly) portrayed to young kids. Do we really want them to think that it is okay to not compete if you think you can’t make it? That it is okay to quit and not even try? Or that if you underperform and do not win tournaments or championships you are a loser and not worthy enough? Youngsters are extremely impressionable and what this kind of behaviour by the Pakistani Squash authorities portrays is that simply giving up is the way to go about every hurdle or obstacle one encounters.