Pakistan’s latest sports sensation with notable achievements in the national and international circuit under his belt already at the age of 19 now sets his eyes on the cherished goal of bringing Pakistan back on the map of world squash.
World junior champion, former Pakistan junior champion, and currently ranked 87th in the world, Ahsan Ayaz’s array of achievements recall incredible feats of the legends of the game. The gutsy squash player carries an image of game’s stalwarts like Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan every time he walks into the squash court.
The elegant left-hander leaves his mark with physical fitness, sharpened intellect and mental strength at the court.
The year 1994 was one of the most remarkable in terms of country’s sports when Pakistan reigned as world champions in cricket, hockey, snooker and squash.
Like those of hockey, athletics and other games, the squash veterans believe that the squash federation is not only marred by influence from political and military elite but also the iron grip of influential squash families and the body’s obsolete training regimes. Besides, the meddling of sponsors in administrative affairs and umpiring standards departing from international benchmarks have contributed towards the downfall of the game.
According to veterans, I have been speaking to for quite some time now, the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Squash Federation must take the responsibility of strengthening and empowering all four provincial bodies.
The silver lining
“I aim to bring Pakistan back on top of the world squash again, which once was synonymous to Pakistan,” says Ahsan Ayaz, who was part of Pakistan’s Under-19 team that lifted World Junior Team Championship trophy in Poland in 2016.
Ahsan has been a national champion at under-11, -13, -15 levels. He also won an under-17 single’s event in Kuala Lumpur Open in 2013. His best achievement yet remains Professional Squash Association’s (PSA) singles Malaysian Tour-4 (Men’s) Championship title. He also won PSA’s ISAM Pro-Open in California, USA, in addition to winning two men’s singles championship titles with players from Gulf countries held in Dubai.
Ahsan also has four international junior titles and three international senior titles. He became bronze medallist for 10 times in PSA’s events on international stage. He has been crowned as national junior champion in various categories for 25 times.
He identified lack of planning, irregular support, failure to systematically improve infrastructure and obsession with cricket as the core issues hurting squash in the country.
Watching some of the exceptional talent getting wasted due to lack of political will and mismanagement, Ahsan took the decision to go abroad to pursue his dream to play competitive squash at international level, which eventually enabled him to win laurels for Pakistan in international tournaments played in UAE, Iran, Malaysia, Poland, the UK, the US and Canada. He has the support of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Magnus Sports, which is Pakistan’s first global sports organisation.
Ahsan started following squash at the age of 10 when his elder brother Muhibullah took him to a squash court. “My parents, siblings, friends and mentors from Pakistan, US and Spain are the reason what I am today.”
Ahsan suggested steady support, provision of funds and enhanced media coverage to promote squash again in the country. “It’s time to promote all indoor and outdoor games, including athletics, squash, hockey, football, tennis, badminton, snooker, in order to give youngsters the choice to opt for the game of their interest,” he added.
He said the squash associations must hold exhibition matches and squash leagues on a regular basis.
Like the veterans, the rising star also said that PAF, PSF and squash associations of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan should promote the sport at the school level.
Ahsan, who has a Bachelors degree with Double Math and Computer Science from Fazaia Degree College, Peshawar, said studies and sports could be continued simultaneously through rational time management.
Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute & Research Centre (PKLI&RC) has nominated Ahsan Ayaz as their “Ambassador to Smash Hepatitis” to spread awareness for prevention of the disease. “I am really impressed to see PKLI’s system under the guidance of Institute’s President Prof Dr Saeed Akhtar,” he said.
“I am committed to promoting the cause as my mother lost her life to hepatitis in December last year. My mother was my best friend and inspiration for life. So it becomes my duty not just to shine in studies and sports but to do humanitarian work to support the underprivileged,” he said.
In this regard, Ahsan said that he had also launched Ahsan Ayaz Sports Foundation (AAS – which literally means “hope” in Urdu) to support talented individuals from underprivileged communities.
“The AAS will track down talented youngsters from rural areas to coach them to shine in their beloved sports,” he explained passionately, staring into my eyes.
“I have been offered to play for Canada, Iran and Dubai, but I will always prefer to wear Pakistan’s colors and represent my country in the international arena,” said Ahsan, who often funds his travel and other sporting expenses from his own or father’s pocket.