Pakistan celebrates World Junior Squash title win after 37 years

Hamza Khan, 17, wins the title after defeating Egypt’s Mohamed Zakaria 3-1 in a thrilling match in Melbourne.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan is celebrating a win at 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.

Since then, only two Pakistanis have managed to make it to the final, the last in 2008.

Hamza belongs to Nawa Killi village in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which has produced some of the legends of squash – a game Pakistan once dominated on the global stage.

Despite belonging to a family which produced world number 14 Shahid Zaman Khan and former British Open winner Qamar Zaman, Hamza’s path to victory was not easy.

His father Niazullah Khan told Al Jazeera he has been funding his son’s passion for the sport since he started training nearly a decade ago. He said he bought equipment and often his travel tickets to the 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 gruelling tournament. I bought him new racquets and shoes from my own pocket before he flew out,” he said.

Niazullah, himself a former national-level squash player, said he had to give up on his dream of representing Pakistan due to his family’s financial condition.

“I was passionate about squash and I was a top player in my college in Peshawar. But my father said I have to reconsider my priorities for family, so I quit my dream,” said Niazullah, who now works for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority and is based in Cherat town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Niazullah said his son was nine when he first entered a squash court.

“Before that he would just practice at home against walls. But within months, not only did he manage to qualify for a domestic tournament, he also ended up beating a player 10 months his senior,” he said.

Congratulations for Hamza are pouring in.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said there was a time when Pakistani squash icons, Jahangir Khan – considered the greatest player to have ever played the game – and Jansher Khan, “upheld their dominance of the sport”.

“Hamza and other young players like him have great role models to follow and with steadfastness and self application, they would fill in their shoes one day, inshaAllah. The future beacons for Pakistan,” Sharif wrote.

In recent years, Pakistan’s declining fortune in squash is often attributed to a lack of support from the government.

Noorena Shams, one of Pakistan’s top squash players, agreed. She said the biggest problems faced by the country’s emerging players are weak management and administration.

“We don’t have the right person for the right job. Nobody here knows how to generate money or look after the players and understand what they require,” Shams told Al Jazeera.

Shams recalled an incident from 2018 when she met Hamza while he was preparing for the Junior US Open championship. She said he was visibly injured.

“I could tell he wasn’t completely fit, but nobody in the board had noticed that. And because players are under so much pressure to perform, they push themselves through,” she said.

Niazullah said the sports authorities in Pakistan must focus on the players’ long-term future and invest in their training and facilities.

“The squash federation sent only one official with Hamza to Australia, and that individual has no background in squash. But I am just glad that my son was able to put everything behind and win. We hope to do more for our country, but we need help,” he told Al Jazeera.