Here’s what I wrote after the fundraiser with the great Jahangir Khan at the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) in conjunction with Dover Squash in Natick, MA – my first sports report (slightly abridged version published in The News).
From Beena Sarwar
BOSTON: The Pakistan Squash Federation has launched an ambitious project to revive the game in Pakistan, partnering with squash associations and academies in the United States to uplift, educate and groom Pakistani talent. (See Khalid Hussain’s earlier report in The News on Sunday here)
PSF Senior Vice President Air Vice Marshal Syed Razi Nawab, along with the legendary Jahangir Khan, unveiled the new plan at a launch ceremony on Sunday evening hosted by Dover Squash and Fitness in Natick, MA.
Prominent local squash enthusiasts and Pakistani expatriates, including Pakistani squash champions Shahid Zaman Khan, Nasir Sheikh and Arshad Iqbal Burki, who are currently coaching in the Boston area, attended the dinner event and engaged in a lively discussion after the presentations.
The project aims to provide exposure, training, and tournament opportunities to Pakistani talent by bringing them to the USA before the start of the squash season in December, for about 4-5 months.
“Our players are already world class but they are not ranked due to lack of international exposure,” said Nawab. “They have beaten players with higher rankings already. Bringing them here (to the USA) will improve their rankings, they’ll be invited to more tournaments, and hopefully there will be prize money as well.”
Playing on the American circuit, he explained, will enable them to play 12 tournaments in one go – the minimum required to be eligible for the Professional Squash Association (PSA).
The PSF chief showed video clips featuring Pakistan’s number one ranked female player Maria Toor Pakai (see CNN report here), and four talented youngsters from impoverished backgrounds whom the PSF is training, educating and grooming – Mansoor Zaman, Suleman Jilani, Mehran Javed and Ali Karamat. The process includes placing them at the prestigious HITECH University at the historic town of Taxila where they are being imparted a top-notch education as well as squash training.
PSF has signed an MOU to partner with Dover Squash, which is setting up a 501-C non-profit organisation to fundraise for the project. Dover Squash has been hosting players from Pakistan over the years, providing logistical and organisational support that helps overcome the hurdles of obtaining a US visa.
America is currently the bedrock of squash, like Britain used to be, where squash greats like Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan gained their initial exposure, said Mahmud Jafri of Dover Rug, one of the sponsoring organisations.
Shahid Zaman Khan, formerly ranked 14 in the world, the highest ranked professional player in Boston, working with the Tennis and Raquet Club was present at the occasion. He is looking forward to coach the Pakistani youngsters at Dover Squash.
“As an American enthusiast of squash, I think this move is long overdue,” said Steve Columbia of Mass Squash whose son Edward is currently ranked as US number 2. “We have the potential to raise the funds we need to take this forward. If the Pakistani expat community steps forward with financial and emotional support, it will help us to reach out to the broader American community. Bringing Pakistani players here will benefit US squash as well.”
“Players need international exposure, to go to the next step,” Jahangir Khan told this correspondent. “In cricket, it is county cricket that gives the players broader vision, to see where they are and where they can go. It’s the same with squash.”
“We want this to go beyond a one-shot deal, and to continue to bring in young players here. This will pave the way for them and open doors. We know that not everyone will become a Jahangir Khan or a Jansher Khan, but even in the worst case scenario, they will get offers from top schools and colleges here which will boost their chances in the world,” said Razi Nawab.
Regarding what PSF is doing to boost squash at home, he said that the Pakistan team beat India to win the Asian Junior Championship cup and are looking forward to the next event in Qatar. “Our camps in Pakistan are based on scientific models, visited by nutritionists and psychologists and provided all the facilities possible, coached by Jamshed Gul.”
The PSF has made the initial investment for the US tour that it hopes to recover from the fundraising trip. In some places they are staying at hosts’ residences in order to curtail expenses. After Boston they are headed to Washington DC where they will make a presentation at the annual Convention of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani descent of North America (APPNA), July 4-8. They will also visit Orlando and Las Vegas.
If this partnership takes off, it is likely have another positive consequence stemming from increased people-to-people contacts between the USA and Pakistan.
“We love the Pakistani players to come and play here,” said Sarah Cortes, who has hosted several visiting players, including Pakistanis, at her home over the past years. “We love to watch them play. Being involved in sports, we are not focusing on angry things. I’m excited that Iqbal and Farhan (top ranked Pakistani players) are coming here.”