Saturday, July 23, 2011


“The Incredi-Balls” is my take on any international squash story that I find… well, incredible. Either in a good way, or a bad way, they will be general interest stories that have peaked my own curiosity and hopefully yours as well. This first article is about the Pakistan Squash Federation and the complete botch job in regards to visas and with their world junior team…

The world of squash is relatively small. Everybody is frantically trying to push the sport into the spotlight, not just in America but all over the world. It needs positive publicity, especially since the world associations will not let go of the dream to join the Olympic fraternity and gain a status of professionalism along with respect from its sporting peers, something it bellows from its own pedestal as a no-brainer.

However, squash continues to not just to shoot itself in the foot, but chop their entire legs clean off when ‘blunders’ like this one crop up. Recently the Junior World Championships were completed in Belgium (July 13-17). The winner was a young fellow from Egypt named Marwan El Shorbagy. The ‘El Shorbagy’ name may be familiar to you – his brother, Mohammed, won the World Junior Championships in 2008 and 2009 and is currently number 9 in the world. Normally, with a story like this, all the attention of this tournament should be geared towards the winner, but alas, his triumphant moment has been somewhat diluted as most of the headlines have been about who did not play.

We all know about Pakistan and the rich history that country has with the sport of squash. Hashim Khan, Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan: players synonymous with unarguably legendary status. There was a time when nobody would question who would win a tournament; it was more a matter of who they would beat in the final. Now, Pakistani squash is floundering in its own ineptitude. The highest ranked Pakistani in the world is ranked 28, with only one other player in the top 100. That’s as many as India, Denmark, Hong Kong, Finland and Italy. Not exactly power-house squash nations.

I am sure there are multiple reasons for the demise of Pakistani squash. I would only be speculating if I gave any, but I have read about corruption within the associations for starters. That aside, their recent escapade is inexcusable.

The world junior Pakistani squash team looked formidable this year. Two of their players were seeded 3 and 4 respectively with a real chance of taking the title. A very exciting time for the players no doubt, as they had the chance to claim a world junior title for their country for the first time since Jansher Khan did it in 1986 – yes, twenty-five years ago.

But Pakistani players need visas to go to Belgium. And it is the responsibility of the PSF (Pakistan Squash Federation) to make sure they get them. You would think it would be a relatively straight forward process to file the paperwork. It isn’t as if they haven’t had to do this before. Nevertheless, in the most important event of the year for these players who had been training extremely hard, the PSF dropped the ball. The visas were denied, the players could not get to Belgium, and they were forced to withdraw from the tournament. Now, the blame game has started, and soon people will be getting sore fingers from pointing so much.

According to the WSF (World Squash Federation) who run the World Junior Championships, the visa applications were applied for too late. The passports of the players were received by the Belgium embassy the day after the team was supposed to arrive in the country. According to the PSF, it was the WSF who delayed in getting the PSF the correct paperwork in the first place in order to send to the Belgium embassy. On top of that, the PSF is screaming, “Conspiracy!” Throwing nuclear fuel on the fire, the PSF secretary - the person responsible for his player’s visas - suggests that the WSF purposely delayed the paperwork because their president is Indian. (My question would be why didn’t the PSF follow up on their request for the paperwork from the WSF in a sensible manner if time was getting tight?)

Whatever comes of the investigation into all these allegations is – in my humble opinion – irrelevant. A couple of heads will probably roll, and then again, they may not. Who really is to blame for this debacle is secondary. I feel terribly for the Pakistani junior players. The event is done; they are victims of unbelievable incompetence. Looking on the bright side, under the category of “all is not lost”, at least the two players who were supposed to be seeded 3rd and 4th this year are young enough to compete in next year’s event… if they can get out of their own country first.

Remarkably, this has happened before. Visa denials for Pakistani players have also occurred in Canada and the US. The events of 9/11 have unquestionably made it more difficult for players from Pakistan to acquire visas. It is a problem that the PSF, WSF and PSA (Professional Squash Association) should be more aggressive in addressing. It has been almost 10 years since that dreaded attack and they still can’t seem to get it right. Why isn’t an efficient system in place? Having Pakistan as a competitive squash nation again can only be good for the sport.

So, while the squash associations stamp their feet, bang their fists, and refuse to eat their greens unless squash is accepted into the Olympic embrace, the IOC have probably been keeping a frowned sneering look at this latest fiasco. After all, if we can’t even get the juniors in order, how are we expected to look after the adults? In order to claim to be a professional outfit, you should probably act like one.

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