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The enormous challenge facing Mujahid Anwar

As PAF chief, Anwar has taken over as President of the Pakistan Squash Federation. His job will be to revive a sport that has touched rock bottom. It’s an opportunity he and his team cannot afford to waste

The enormous challenge facing Mujahid Anwar
Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan… under his leadership, PSF will have to devise a new game plan to lift Pakistan squash

Recently, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan formally took over as President of the Pakistan Squash Federation when he was unanimously elected during PSF’s 45th Annual General Meeting at the Air Headquarters. The list of attendees included former legends like Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan and Qamar Zaman.

The general council was going through the motions because Mujahid Anwar had effectively taken over as PSF boss the moment he was elevated to the position of the Air Chief.

For decades, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been running Pakistan squash. For years, it oversaw Pakistan’s rise to dizzying heights with legends like Hashim Khan, Jahangir and Jansher winning major world titles at will.

Unfortunately, Mujahid Anwar has taken over at a time when Pakistan squash has touched rock bottom.

Pakistan squash is currently in a shambles. Just take a look at the world rankings. There is not a single Pakistani player in the top-50 rankings. Not a single one in top-60 or top-70 either.

The 21-year-old Tayyab Aslam from Lahore is currently Pakistan’s highest-ranked player in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) rankings and he is languishing at No. 71.

When I first started covering squash internationally back in the early nineties, things were completely different. Jansher Khan was the undisputed world No. 1 while Jahangir Khan was also still active on the international circuit. Then there were other players like Zarak Jahan Khan, Mir Zaman Gul and Zubair Jahan Khan in the top-ten rankings. Back in the eighties, things were even better for Pakistan as there used to be around six or seven players from the country in the top-10 club.

At the moment it’s Egypt that is enjoying a similar sort of dominance. Mohamed Elshorbagy is currently the world number one followed by three more of his compatriots, which means that the current top four ranked players in the world are all from Egypt. There are two more Egyptians in the top-10 increasing their numbers in the elite club to six. There is even a Colombian player in the top-10 while a Peruvian and an Indian are included in the top-15. Even a Qatari youngster is ranked number 28 in the world, much higher than Pakistan’s representatives in the PSA list.

Pakistani players, meanwhile, continue their slide in the world rankings and that’s a reflection of the downward spiral experienced by Pakistan squash in recent years.

The good thing is that the new PSF President has begun his tenure with a lot of optimism. In the PAF, he is seen as a doer and in this time of crisis Pakistan squash can benefit from a leader like him. However, the PSF chief should be well aware of the fact that the challenge facing him is an enormous one.

If you take a long, hard look at it, you will know that the world of Pakistan squash is almost entirely built on sand. From the coaching of the players, to the so-called national junior development programme, you will hardly find anything concrete in the very structure of the game in a country that once fuelled world squash with an unlimited supply of champions.

The biggest tragedy for our squash is that the people at the helm of the game at the national level have mostly been unwilling to admit that Pakistan squash is currently experiencing its darkest phase.

It’s a bitter truth that a sport, which brought a nascent state on the map of international sport more than six decades back, is gasping for air.

It’s a sad scenario but to bring any improvement in it, you will have to first accept it that that’s the way things stand for Pakistan squash at the moment.

Frankly speaking, squash was never a sport for the masses in Pakistan. Unlike cricket and hockey, squash seldom enjoyed the luxury of pulling huge crowds to the courts even at the time when legends Jahangir and Jansher Khan rode roughshod over their rivals on the international circuit.

But it was still the third most popular sport in the country, I would vouch for that. As a scribe who has been covering the sport for 28 years, I’ve kept a keen eye on the various ups and downs Pakistan squash has experienced since 1990. And I must tell you that things have never been this bad. And PAF, because of its status as the major stakeholders of Pakistan squash, should take responsibility.

For years, PAF has been controlling national squash affairs and provides PSF with financial and administrative support. In fact, PSF is actually a part of the PAF, like a multi-national will have a separate division looking after its Corporate Social Responsibility.

In return, the PAF chief gets the post of PSF president. He can install his handpicked officers to become senior vice-president, secretary and treasurer of the federation.

To be fair with the PAF, it has contributed a lot to Pakistan squash in the past. But the problem is that its contribution towards Pakistan squash is insufficient in the current circumstances. It will have to do more.

It will have to launch a nation-wide drive to lift the fortunes of Pakistan squash. It will have to do in Pakistan what the Egyptians have done in their country. For years, Egypt were down and out in the world of squash but through a series of concrete steps they have managed to revive the sport in their country. And today Egyptian squash is reaping the fruits of that campaign.

In order to launch a nation-wide campaign, the PAF will have to bring about changes in the PSF. Personally I would suggest that it creates a new post in the federation and appoint a director or even a chief operating officer to run Pakistan squash in a professional manner. That person should be a paid official, who is given certain tasks and is made accountable for them.

Currently, the PSF is run by its secretary, who has a Senior Vice President as his boss. It’s a long-standing arrangement that hasn’t really worked. That’s because both the secretary and the SVP are serving PAF officials, who are given responsibilities in the PSF for a certain period of time. In most of the cases, they learn to run the federation through the process of trial and error. And by the time, they learn how not to err their tenure is over. A new set of officials takes over and the cycle continues. There is minimal continuity which is why its hardly surprising that the PSF has seldom managed to carry out long-term goals.

A paid director or a CEO can ensure continuity. He can work with the secretary and SVP especially on long-term projects. That official can be a former PAF official with prior knowledge of running Pakistan squash. Personally, I would suggest he should be someone, who can bring the best out of the players belonging to the various Peshawar clans. I know that squash is played all over Pakistan but when it comes to finding future champions, Peshawar remains our best bet. But the problem with Peshawar is that there are too many inter-family rivalries and that has dogged the progress of squash there. The PSF should have people who understand those rivalries and who know how to deal with them.

But I know that bringing in a new director or CEO won’t be easy for the PSF which is too set in its own ways. If that’s the case then the least it can do is appoint an experienced secretary on a long-term basis. The secretary should be made accountable if he is unable to meet his targets. The secretary, for all practical purposes, would be like a chief operating officer whose progress is monitored by the SVP as well as the President.

The thing is that PSF will have to rethink its game plan. It cannot continue to make the same mistakes and expect that the results are going to be any different. Pakistan has squash has suffered a lot and it needs a new lease of life. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar and his team have an opportunity do that. And for the sake of Pakistan, they shouldn’t waste it.

Khalid Hussain

khalid hussain
The author is Editor Sports of The News. He can be reached at khalid.hussain@thenews.com.pk

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