The recently concluded All Pakistan Chief Minister Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Ranking Tennis Championship was a success — the first national event organised by the provincial federation.
However, by holding the event at the Garrison Club, the federation was also successful in sweeping the real state of tennis in Peshawar under the carpet. Worries about security, adequate facilities and the state of the courts were pushed into the background but the sport’s future remains obscure in K-P. Around 180 players took part but the crowd remained scarce. There was no women’s event organised as the federation was unable to find sufficient players.
Currently, the provincial association does not have an academy, a coaching centre or even a single good quality tennis court where players can train. The two hard-courts at the Peshawar Sports Complex are in a poor state. Pakistan Air Force, the police and the University of Peshawar have grass-courts but not for public use.
“The main reason behind the lack of female players is the absence of separate courts for them,” Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Tennis Association (KPTA) President Tahir Khan told The Express Tribune. “The Pakistan Tennis Federation has an unused piece of land which we’re planning to utilise and construct an academy which will also include a covered tennis court for female players.”
The cultural barriers, according to Tahir, meant that female players could not play in front of male players in one court in the province so the government must take steps to launch the sport in women’s colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, tournament winner and Pakistan’s top-ranked player Aqeel Khan rued the waste of talent in K-P due to the lack of facilities and training and the unavailability of funds.
“Not a single player has emerged from the province due to negligence on part of provincial government to organise tournaments,” said Aqeel. “Peshawar is my hometown. The negligence discouraged me and the other players from playing here and that has resulted in the demise of tennis in K-P.”
A Garrison Club coach also blamed the government’s role in driving female players away from the sport.
“There is talent but female players have been neglected and overlooked to the extent that they’ve stopped playing,” he said. “We need to target the grass-roots. Sow the seeds there.”
The KPTA confirmed that eight local players were to be sent for proper training after the tournament. The Provincial Sports Minister Syed Aqil Shah did announce a grant of Rs70m for an academy comprising six courts and a hostel. However, more than the cash and hollow promises, the province needs willing individuals and adequate planning to promote the game.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2012.
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