Interview with Squash Legend Jahangir Khan

We met up with Legendary Jahangir Khan during the recently concluded World Junior Squash Championship 2004 in Islamabad. We chatted about many things in a candid environment at the Mushaf Squash Complex in Islamabad. Even though Pakistan’s Yasir Butt lost the Individual Championship Title to Egypt’s Ramy Ashour, he had words of encouragement for all. He explained that earlier in his career he too lost the Junior Championship finals twice in a row only to strive even harder to win many a tournaments later. Here is the excerpt from the interview.

Q) This year, Pakistan had a strong contingent of six players in the quarterfinals. However, we still lost the final. Your comments? Also, what is future of Pakistan Squash?

JK) Winning and losing is all part of the game. Every player works hard for the tournament. Overall if you look at the tournament, and performance of all the players, I would say Pakistan was better off than other teams. 6 Players out of 8 made it into quarters. Then 3 out of 4 into semis is only indicative of the fact Pakistan can win the title. However, some of the players needed to play with more confidence. I have seen them train and was sure that they can be victorious. They should be a bit more confident like Ramy Ashour who played in a more professional manner and did not come under pressure for losing a game or point and played to his potential. When a player can understand this difference, then his results are bound to improve.

For such tournaments, players come from all over the world and have worked hard to win it. And despite the fact that Pakistan did not win the final, it is still an achievement to get 6 players into the top 8. This indicates that Pakistan has more choices and talent than anyone else. It is not the end of the day if you lose one final. Through this tournament they must have learned about the quality of Squash players from around the world. All they need to do now is to convert the training and match practice into winning. And they can achieve that if they believe in themselves and are confident.

Q) You saw the Pakistan contingent play at this Championship. Whom do you see as the next prospect for World Champion in the future?

JK) If you look at the Championship, you will see that all the players played very well and are also very young (between the ages of 15-18). I had seen some of them play in India in 2002 Championship and I saw their game improve since then. But the most exciting prospect of this Championship was Amir Atlas (semi finalist in this years Junior Championships). He has the biggest advantage of age as he is only 15 years old and can play Junior circuit for a few more years. He defeated some of his senior players who were better than him and also more experienced and ranked higher. After defeating them in a confident manner, he must have known about the standard of his own game and can utilize this experience to win even more matches. He has been training hard for the past year or so and if continues to train as diligently and believes in himself he can win many a tournaments in the future. In fact, he can be the next top professional in the Squash Circuit.

Q) Currently, you are the President of World Squash Federation (WSF). Are there any steps being taken to include Squash in the Olympics?

JK) For the past many years, we have been trying to include Squash in the Olympics. In fact, there are many sports like Squash, Rugby, Golf, Karate etc that are trying to make it to the Olympics. According to the IOC, only a limited athletes in the designated sports can participate in the Olympics. It is not just a matter to organize and run a tournament but to have proper facilities including room and board, training etc are to be provided equally to each athlete. Due to such constraints, only 28 sports could be included in this year’s game with around 10,000 athletes competing in them. Traditionally, Olympics only had amateur players and professionals could not participate. Today, things have changed as many teams at Olympics boast professionals in their ranks and is therefore, open to all.

Today, WSF have over 150 member countries and 15 million registered squash players worldwide. We are a popular sport that needs to be given a chance at Olympics. The Olympic committee will deliberate on the final list of the sports for 2012 games in June 2005. We do hope that they consider the popularity of Squash and decide in its favor.

Q) Computer Analysis are now becoming common in almost every sport in the world. Is this an important aspect for winning today?

JK) If you look at the big picture, you will notice that the records in Squash were made earlier not today. And they were made without computers. In fact, if computers were really helping them improve that much than they should have broken all old records by now. These are all artificial ways of assisting the players move ahead. However, if the player is genuinely talented and has the natural ability than these things do not assist him much.

Q) What are the most important things for a youngster who picks up squash as a sport?

JK) Well, I would say, he should be clear about his goals. What targets he wants to achieve? The second most import thing is passion for the game. He should also be disciplined and have faith in his abilities and time that he is willing to spend on learning and playing this sport. Hence, hard work in a structured way is required for anyone to achieve his goals.

Also, one should not be satisfied and relaxed after winning a few matches or tournaments. That is not the end of the day. One should continue to achieve even higher goals. You are a complete player the day you retire from the game and not before that.

Q) You have been involved with the game all your life. Have you ever considered coaching youngsters?

JK) I have had numerous offers to train players or national teams, but I am not planning on that right now. However, in the long run, I would like to establish an academy for Squash and would like to participate regularly in its activities and will also try to involve other coaches and players that I have worked with in the past. This academy will assist in harnessing the abundant talent available in the country.

Q) There is hardly any Pakistani now in the top 20 of Professional Squash Circuit. What needs to be done beyond what is already done to achieve a higher ranking?

JK) I don’t see any improvement can be done to our senior players. They were top players in the Junior circuit but have not performed as well later. Their contemporaries in the under 19 level are already penetrating the top 10 list. I guess, our players did not utilize the facilities to their fullest potential. Take the example of James Wilstrop. He was a former world junior champion. Today he is ranked world no 8 in less than two years. Therefore, I would advice the Pakistanis to work and train even harder than the rest to achieve higher goals. That is the only way they can win some tournaments and bring glory to Pakistan.

Interview conducted by Atif Mumtaz

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