A national sporting hero has died, and his passing has gone largely unnoticed outside his field of excellence — squash. Since partition, Pakistan has produced a string of world-class squash players, but Hashim Khan was the first of the real sporting superstars in the early years of the state. In 1951, he won the first of seven British Open titles at the age of 37, winning the not-so-princely prize of £50 by so doing. Winning squash titles became something of a family business. Khan tutored his brother Azam who went on to win four British Open titles. His cousin Roshan and nephew won a title apiece and Roshan’s son won ten, almost a dynastic monopoly of world-class squash, yet rarely feted or recognised.
A former British Open champion, Qamar Zaman, commented after hearing of Khan’s death that it was unfortunate that the people of Pakistan do not value legendary lives such as Khan’s was. He further commented that such prodigies often find themselves living in other countries. They do so because the facilities are not in their home country, nor do they get the financial support that top-flight sports-people need. Those few athletes that we do send abroad — such as to the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow — perform below par and often complain bitterly about their lack of competitiveness being linked closely to lack of support at every level. Hashim Khan was an undoubted master of the game of squash, but it is a minority sport in Pakistan and those that do climb the ladder of success usually do so by dint of their own hard labours and generous benefactors rather than getting a helping hand from the state. Sport outside of cricket features nowhere in the national education curriculum, and few schools offer sporting facilities or coaching. Hashim Khan was a credit to his country, our first sporting superstar. He died where he lived, in the US. And will there be a memorial to him in his homeland? Probably not.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.
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