Hamza Khan, 17, won the title after beating Egypt’s Mohamed Zakaria 3-1 in a thrilling match in Melbourne.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan celebrated a victory in the World Junior Squash Championship after a long wait of 37 years.
Hamza Khan, 17, on Sunday won the title after defeating Egypt’s Mohamed Zakaria 3-1 in a thrilling match in Melbourne, Australia.
The last time a Pakistani won the championship was in 1986 when the legendary Jansher Khan lifted the trophy.
🎙 “Pakistani Squash is back!”
– World Squash (@WorldSquash) July 23, 2023
Hamza belongs to the village of Nawa Killi in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, which has produced several legends in squash – a sport Pakistan once dominated on the world stage.
Despite being part of a family that produced world number 14 Shahid Zaman Khan and former British Open winner Qamar Zaman, Hamza’s road to victory was not easy.
His father Niazullah Khan told Al Jazeera that he has been funding his son’s passion for the sport since he started training almost a decade ago. He said he buys equipment and often his tickets to travel to events.
“While his ticket for Australia was bought by the Pakistan Squash Federation, they did not send any coach or trainer with him to guide him during this grueling tournament. I bought him new rackets and shoes from my own pocket before he took off,” he said.
Niazullah, who is a former national-level squash player, said he had to give up his dream of representing Pakistan because of his family’s financial situation.
“I am fond of squash and I was a top player in my college in Peshawar. But my father said that I should reconsider my priorities for the family, so I gave up my dream,” said Niazullah, who now works for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority and is based in the city of Cherat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Niazullah said his son was nine years old when he first entered the squash court.
“Before he only practiced at home against the wall. But within months, he not only managed to qualify for a domestic tournament, he also beat a player 10 months older,” he said.
Congratulations for Hamza poured in.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said there was a time when Pakistan’s squash icons, Jahangir Khan – considered the greatest player to ever play the game – and Jansher Khan, “raised their dominance in the game”.
“Hamza and other young players like him have good role models to follow and with consistency and self-application, they will fill their shoes one day, inshaAllah. Future beacons for Pakistan,” Sharif wrote.
I congratulate Hamza Khan for winning the World Junior Squash Championship. His hard work, commitment and sportsmanship made Pakistan the recipient of the title after a long gap of 37 years. There was a time when our pumpkin icons Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan supported their… pic.twitter.com/kMR59kNoD0
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMshehbaz) July 23, 2023
In recent years, the declining fortunes of Pakistan’s pumpkin have often been attributed to a lack of support from the government.
Noorena Shams, one of Pakistan’s top squash players, agrees. He said the biggest problem facing emerging players in the country is weak management and administration.
“We don’t have the right person for the right job. Nobody here knows how to make money or take care of the players and know what they need,” Shams told Al Jazeera.
Shams recalled an incident from 2018 when he met Hamza while he was preparing for the Junior US Open championship. He said he was obviously injured.
“I could tell he wasn’t completely fit, but no one on the board noticed that. And because the players are under a lot of pressure to perform, they keep to themselves,” he said.
Niazullah said that sports authorities in Pakistan should focus on the long-term future of the players and invest in their training and facilities.
“The squash federation sent only one official with Hamza to Australia, and that individual has no squash background. But I’m just happy that my son was able to put everything in and win. We hope to do more for our country, but we need help,” he told Al Jazeera.