It wasn’t a particularly good week for Pakistan sports. Twenty20 odd of the country’s cricketers were left stranded in Kampala after the sponsors of the so-called Afro T20 League in the Ugandan capital backed out of their commitment.
In Islamabad, the country’s squash chiefs revived the Pakistan Open, which was once regarded as one of the most important events on the World Squash Tour. It was after more than a decade that the Pakistan Open was held. It offered a prize basket of US$50,000 and managed to attract a reasonable field of international stars. Unfortunately for local fans, Pakistani players disappointed in the event as they failed to even reach the quarterfinals of the tournament. It was a far cry from the past when the Pakistan Open was almost always won by a local player.
In the world of Pakistan boxing, the woes of Mohammad Waseem – the country’s sole flag-bearer in the international Pro boxing – continued unabated. The two-time World Boxing Council (WBC) world silver flyweight champion was sent back from Colombia by his promoter ahead of his world title bout against Daigo Higa of Japan next February. The reason: His promoter has no money to spend on Waseem’s training. This means that financial issues could force the Quetta-born boxer to pull out of the world title bout which will allow England’s Andrew Selby to challenge reigning world flyweight champion Higa for the coveted crown.
In hockey, there was yet another setback when former Olympian Farhat Khan resigned as Pakistan’s hockey coach. Appointed just six months back, Farhat cited personal reasons for his decision to quit but it was apparent that he was asked to leave after Pakistan’s performance went from bad to worse under his watch. With Farhat as coach, Pakistan crashed in the Asia Cup and was thrashed by their rivals in a four-nation invitation event in Australia where the Green-shirts were even beaten by minnows Japan.
Farhat’s resignation came just days after it was revealed that Pakistan were mulling over the idea of bringing in a foreign coach to resurrect the national team’s fortunes. In fact, there were reports that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has shortlisted German hockey great Christian Blunck for the position of head coach. Blunck is a former national captain of Germany with an Olympic gold medal under his belt. But he has little coaching experience at the international level.
Sources in the PHF told me that the federation was still weighing its options, which means that Blunck’s appointment was still not a done deal.
Speaking of deals, Pakistani players including former star Saeed Ajmal and ex-captain Aamir Sohail received a raw deal in Kampala where the Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) cancelled the Afri T20 Cricket League leaving the cricketers stranded.
There were conflicting reports about the reasons behind the cancellation with some suggesting that the sponsors backed out while other claiming that the UCA was forced to call off the league after the foreign players roped in for the event failed to get international clearance.
According to Martin Ondeko, an official of UCA, the organisers after waiting for several days for the respective boards to clear their players, decided to cancel the league.
“It is unfortunate that we shall miss the chance to host such an event where our players would have got exposed with top international players. But we need to observe the International Cricket Council (ICC) rules,” he was quoted as saying.
Twenty of the 31 foreign players who were supposed to feature in the league were from Pakistan. All of them were issued NOCs by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). All of them had already travelled to Kampala before the UCA decided to call off the league. They were stranded in the Ugandan capital during the busy holiday season and found it difficult to book flights back home.
What happened in Kampala should force the PCB to think twice before issuing clearance to national cricketers. Under Najam Sethi, the Board has become too trigger-happy when it comes to issuing NOCs for foreign leagues. Just recently, it threw its weight behind a dubious T-10 League in the UAE and even allowed leading players to miss important Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches in order for them to take part in the 10-over contest.
The fall of Pakistan squash
Squash has seldom been of much interest to sports fans in Pakistan since the end of the halcyon days of the great Khans. The sport has fallen off the radar since the retirement of the last two legends of Pakistan squash – Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. That’s why it was hardly surprising when the prestigious Pakistan Open revived after almost a decade failed to attract much attention. One of the prime reasons behind it was the fact that there was no local hope for the title.
As expected it was the Egyptians who dominated the proceedings with players from Malaysia and even Hong Kong also making their presence felt. In Islamabad last week, Pakistani aspirants were slaughtered like lambs. It was in stark contrast to the past when Jahangir and Jansher used to win the title almost at will. The last time a Pakistani won the crown was Amjad Khan, a nephew of Jansher Khan. Amjad triumphed in the 1998 edition of the Pakistan Open held in Karachi.
The revival of Pakistan Open is a good step by the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF). But I fear that unless we take concrete steps to raise the standard of our squash, such moves won’t make much of a difference. Unless Pakistani players rise to the occasion, just like Amjad did almost 20 years ago, no international squash event held on our soil will get much attention. The problem with Pakistan squash is that it has failed to produce quality players in the last two decades. Over the years, the PSF has tried and failed in its bid to lift Pakistan squash. It’s pretty clear that whatever it has been doing hasn’t worked. And it won’t work in the future either. It is time for the PSF to change its game plan. Otherwise Pakistan squash will continue to suffer.