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Wednesday July 24, 2024

Rising star

At 11 years old, young squash sensation won gold medal in under-13 category of PBA 20th Penang Malaysian junior Open 2024

By Editorial Board
June 25, 2024
Pakistans 11-year-old squash player Mahnoor Ali poses with her certificate. — Pakistan Squash Federation/file
Pakistan's 11-year-old squash player Mahnoor Ali poses with her certificate. — Pakistan Squash Federation/file

While most Pakistani sports fans were still trying to wash away the memory of their country’s ignominious exit from the 2024 T20 World Cup, Mahnoor Ali was becoming a champion and an athlete worthy of our support and praise. At just 11 years old, the young squash sensation won the gold medal in the under-13 category of the PBA 20th Penang Malaysian junior Open 2024. This is one of the toughest squash tournaments in Asia, bringing together some of the top young squash players in the world. But winning is not new to Mahnoor. The victory in Penang means she has now accumulated 15 medals and holds five international titles including the gold medal in the Australian Junior Open 2024, a bronze medal in the under-13 category at the 7th Borneo Junior Open 2023 and the under-11 title at the Penang (Malaysian) Open Squash Championship in 2022. It is a shame that most of the nation is likely not aware of Mahnoor’s accomplishments or even paying attention when she won gold in Penang, Malaysia. Since the 1980s at least, cricket has not had any serious competition for viewership from other sports in the country. Hence, despite the fact that the country boasts one of the most impressive legacies in squash, the sport has failed to produce any real household names since the era of Jansher and Jahangir Khan.

Another side effect of the dominance of cricket has been the chronic neglect of all other sports in the country at an institutional and financial level. It is quite difficult for athletes in other sports to make a living let alone attain a decent standard of living. Take the case of former national hockey player Shahida Raza, who drowned along with around 62 others after the boat carrying sank off the coast of Italy last year. Despite her sporting success, she became one of the millions of migrants from the Global South desperate to escape a life of deprivation and poverty in her home country. Mahnoor Ali’s rise as a squash prodigy has been supported by The Bilquis and Abdul Razak Dawood (BARD) Foundation, a nonprofit focused on sports, education and social welfare. Without the dedicated support that these organizations provide to young athletes like Mahnoor, the country’s sports landscape may well be even more unipolar.

However, despite the significant challenges sports other than cricket face in Pakistan, athletes from hockey to martial arts and squash are arguably going through somewhat of a revival and delivering the sorts of victories that the cricket team is failing to provide. Last month, the men’s hockey team reached the finals of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup where they lost to Japan while Pakistan scored a victory over India at Dubai’s Karate Combat 45 event, with rising star Shazaib Rind securing the win after a memorable performance against India’s Rana Singh. Last year, Hamza Khan brought the World Junior Squash Championship back to Pakistan after 37 years. What is also becoming evident is that Pakistani sports fans, increasingly feeling like they are being taken for granted, are ready to move beyond cricket. It is now down to the institutions that govern and broadcast sports like hockey, squash and martial arts to capitalize on these moments and give the young athletes under their charge the support and spotlight that they deserve.