Abu Dhabi junior squash player, Aamir Khan was celebrating in Scotland last Sunday after snatching the boys' Under 19 junior title at the 2009 Heriot-Watt University Junior Open squash tournament. Aamir, 17, beat Scotland's top-seeded Chris Ferguson in Edinburgh in a five-match tussle for the title, eventually overcoming his rival 11-9 in the fifth and deciding game.
The win is a significant boost to the young player who, despite his budding form, slipped four places from 15th to 19th in the junior world rankings at the beginning of the month. His recent slump has left him a place below cousin Farhan Mehboob, who sits 18th. Aamir blames his fall on a lack of international competition, stemming from the absence of funding available for the sport in the UAE. As a relatively new sport to the country, squash is yet to find its footing among more popular and better supported sports.
And with an official UAE squash federation yet to be established, Aamir's travels to international events have been funded by his father, squash coach Iqbal Khan. "I haven't had any special support yet," said Aamir. The Abu Dhabi-based youngster comes from a dynasty of squash players. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all competitive players and coaches. While Iqbal is happy to support his son financially, he believes the sport is in desperate need of greater awareness and funding in order to nurture talented youngsters like Aamir.
"Squash is not like football, many people do not know it well or play it, so it is not easy to get support or find sponsors," said Iqbal, who coaches Aamir himself. "Aamir is technically very good, but he needs to travel to more tournaments to gain more experience and increase his international rankings. It is not easy for him to travel, it is very expensive." In an attempt to raise the sport's profile in the UAE, Iqbal and other squash enthusiasts from across the Emirates have formed an unofficial squash committee who petition the government for approval to launch a federation.
"We have spent years forming the committee. We have talented and motivated people involved. "Last month we presented our plans to the government, now it is a waiting game to see if they will grant us approval," said Iqbal. "There isn't a national squash team at the moment, government funding would allow us to form one." A lack of squash facilities is another issue standing in the way of young players, said Iqbal.
"The sport was once popular but squash clubs are being demolished to make way for buildings. It is difficult to find courts to play on, so less people play. It's sad," he said. Success in Scotland and a sixth place finish at a junior championship in Holland last month has bolstered Aamir's determination to keep progressing in the sport. "Being in Scotland was a great experience. The tournament was tough as the other players were very skilled. There was a time in the semifinal when I thought I might lose, but I managed to pull through," he said.
"Now because of this tournament I feel great about my career. "My next tournament is the Scottish Junior Open in December, then there's the World British Junior Open in January. I would like to compete more, but without sponsorship it is difficult," he added. "My goal for this season is to reach the top 10 in the under 19 world rankings." @Email:email@example.com