April issue 2010
Interview: Aamir Atlas Khan
“In Pakistan it seems that the people governing sports just don’t care”
– Aamir Atlas Khan
When Aamir Atlas Khan joined the Professional Squash Association (PSA) as a 14-year-old, he was hailed as the next big thing for Pakistan squash.
Five years later, Aamir has failed to live up to expectations. His critics argue that the Peshawar youngster doesn’t have what it takes to be a world champion, unlike his illustrious uncle Jansher Khan. But ask Aamir and he will tell you that he has always received a raw deal from the country’s sports authorities.
Aamir rose to a career-high No 14 in the world rankings last November after a spate of impressive results which included a stunning triumph over France’s Gregory Gaultier, the then world number one in Doha. But since then, his graph has dipped and Aamir is currently placed at No 20 on the PSA computer.
In 2008, Aamir became the fourth Pakistani to win the prestigious Pakistan Open in Islamabad.
The 19-year-old Pakistan number one tells Newsline in an interview that he still harbours hopes of becoming one of the world’s best players but desperately needs support from the authorities.
Q: Do you lack proper guidance and coaching?
A: I don’t think so. My father Atlas Khan, who was once a leading international player, has been my coach since the very beginning. I’ve always trained hard. The problem lies elsewhere. I need proper support from the Pakistan Squash Federation [PSF]. I need sponsors for the 13 international tournaments I have to play every year. I’m always unsure whether I will be able to take part in those events because of a lack of finances. When I go to the PSF for help, they tell me I have to make it to the semifinals each time I go for an international event. That is not possible because sometimes you have to play the world number one in the very first round. I can focus on my game only if I have proper support .
Q: Why is that you’ve been unable to break into the top 10 in the world rankings?
A: It’s all about the circumstances we have to live with here. Almost nine months back I applied for a job in PIA and they still haven’t responded. I’ve been assured by parliamentarians and ministers that they will fetch me a job but, so far, nothing has happened. A player needs some peace of mind to excel at the international level. Our counterparts in countries like Egypt and England are getting all possible support from their countries, which is why they are at the top of the international rankings. But in Pakistan it seems that the people governing sports just don’t care.
Q: How many funds do you need annually?
A: I have to compete in at least 13 international events around the world each year. The expenses come to around four million rupees annually. I need a coach and physio to accompany me. When I go to sponsors they tell me to first reach the top 10 and then ask for sponsorship. The thing is, if I’m at the top I won’t need their support — I’ll earn ample prize money and get international sponsors. It’s now that I need their support but they tell me I can’t have it. You can’t become a world champion just like that.
Q: People say that legends like Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan became champions without much support. Why can’t you follow in their footsteps?
A: It’s wrong to suggest that they had no support. Jahangir had Rehmat Khan as his full-time coach. He had PIA to support him. He had a lot of sponsors as well. The same was the case with Jansher. He used to have three to four support staff, who travelled with him all over the world. Airfares or expenses were never a problem for them.
Q: Do you think Pakistan can have a world champion in squash again?
A: If they want a world champion, they will have to invest in the players. I’m the Pakistan number one and if they treat me like this then you can well imagine how they treat the other players. Things will have to change, otherwise there is no hope for squash players in our country.
This article is part of a larger report of the health of sports in Pakistan: Game Over
The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.