Women’s squash in Pakistan gets a much-needed boost

A workshop for girls was organised in Peshawar by Noorena Shams

March 25, 2024
Highlights from the squash workshop for girls in Peshawar. - Photos courtesy: Noorena Shams

Over the years, squash has gradually lost its place in the public discourse on sports in Pakistan but a lengthy list of legendary players are often cited whenever there is a debate. However, women players are conspicuously absent from this discussion more often than not. Some people might name Carla Khan and Maria Toor, who impressed at the international arena in the past, but that’s just about it.

Well, they are not wrong because Pakistan lags behind other countries when it comes to giving women an environment which enables them to excel at the highest level. Social and cultural barriers have also not helped women looking to make a name for themselves in squash.

Alarmingly, the highest-ranked women’s squash player, Noor-ul-Huda, from Pakistan sits at 199th position on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) rankings.

But, recently, Pakistan squash star Noorena Shams took a much-needed step in the right direction, through her workshop for girls in Peshawar, showcasing that there could still be light at the end of the tunnel.

With backing from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Squash Association and quality coaches, Noorena and her team worked on players’ self-confidence, basic skill development, character building, while also focusing on their mental and physical health.

Girls in action during the workshop. - Photo courtesy: Noorena Shams

In the three-day workshop, 30 girls across Peshawar, from age 5 to 20, who play squash professionally came to participate.

“I have always worked towards the visibility and facilitation of athletes. My efforts used to be mostly through the administrative roles but unfortunately the last few years have been disappointing for sporting activities. When given a chance to do something meaningful, I jumped on to the opportunity of conducting a workshop for the squash players and especially girls,” Noorena, who hails from Lower Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told GeoSuper.tv in an exclusive interview.

“As an athlete myself, I understand what a brilliant coach can add to our training and I saw that gap between the girls and the coaching staff we have.”

Participants of the workshop pose for a group picture. - Photo courtesy: Noorena Shams

Noorena also shed light on what she wanted to achieve through this workshop.

“Activities like these are not very common in our community. Apart from learning through this event, others objective were to normalise celebrating girls in sports, take their passion seriously, reminding the community, through media, that it’s their right to play and to hold the authorities accountable for absence of such healthy and important activities. Such sessions are important because it promotes diversity and instills the sense of inclusion,” she added.

“Our country already struggles with acceptance of women in sports. Seeing senior players, coaches, media, parents, authorities and teammates celebrating each other as well as helping each other, gives athletes the confidence to keep on going and not quit.”

The initiative, which was first of its kind activity for girls of squash in Pakistan, was welcomed by the parents, coaches and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as well, according to Noorena. Meanwhile, coaches are also interested in a similar plan for boys as well.

Awais Khan and Adil Atlas Khan, former Pakistan player and World Squash Federation Level 2 coach, were also part of the workshop as the coaches.

“It was an excellent workshop and was an enjoyable experience for the participants since they learned a lot through this exercise,” said Adil.

“We organised some fun games as well but our main focus was helping them improve their basic skills such as grip, swing, mental health and body balance, which are extremely important when a player is young.”

Adil Atlas instructs players during the workshop. - Photo courtesy: Noorena Shams

Chief Guest Qamar Zaman, former British Open winner and chairman of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Squash Association, also lauded the initiative.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Squash Association has been giving special attention to girls. When Noorena, who takes great interest in such activities, approached me regarding this, I gave her my full support. Along with coaches Adil and Awais, they shared valuable knowledge with the youngsters which will definitely help in the future,” said Qamar.

“I think such events should happen regularly since it encourages the young players.

“Peshawar has always taken the lead when it comes to promoting squash for girls. I want appreciate the Pakistan Air Force as well for building a separate sports complex for girls here in Peshawar so that they can train and improve their skills.”

Noorena Shams presents a shield to Qamar Zaman. - Photo courtesy: Noorena Shams

One of the players who attended the workshop was Mewhish Ali, Pakistan’s senior number 1 Pakistan and Scottish Junior Gold medalist.

“It was a very good and new experience to join such a workshop and having time with junior and senior players. Sometimes you learn a lot from junior players. The coaches also worked on our technique that really helped me a lot,” said Mehwish.

Meanwhile, Kulsoom Abdullah, Quaid Trophy University champion, said: “We had fun activities and I especially learned about how to work as a team and how to lead a group. Matches were held in every category, which is very effective for beginners, and through this they will overcome the pressure of matches. Thank you, Noorena, for arranging something like this especially for women.”

Mehwish Ali (M) with her sisters Sehrish (R) and Mahnoor (L). - Photo courtesy: Noorena Shams

Former world number 12 and Asian champion Amir Atlas Khan, who was also one of the guests at the event, said that the initiative was a “fantastic opportunity to learn, grow, and take participants’ passion for sports to the next level”

“The sports workshop was truly invigorating and inspiring. The coaches' enthusiasm and expertise were palpable throughout the sessions, making it a truly engaging and empowering experience,” Amir added.

“The workshop not only enhanced players technical skills but also fostered a sense of teamwork and camaraderie among all the participants. The structured drills and personalized feedback provided a clear path for improvement, leaving all participants feeling motivated and eager to continue honing their abilities.

“The organisation who arranged the sports workshop deserves high praise for their exceptional planning and execution. Their attention to detail was evident in every aspect of the event, from the quality of the facilities to the knowledgeable and supportive coaching staff. The seamless registration process, timely communication, and well-thought-out itinerary contributed to a smooth and enjoyable experience for all participants.”

Noorena Shams was all smiles during the workshop. - Photo courtesy: Noorena Shams

After the successful conclusion of the workshop in Peshawar, Noorena aims to extend this initiative to other parts of Pakistan as well.

“My plan has been fully supported by KP Squash Association and the local squash community. I would love to extend it not only within KP but across Pakistan but I would require support for that. As they say ‘where there is a will, there is a way’, I believe we will be able to paint Pakistan with the color of squash once again if the odds are with us. The media has to spread our message so we can extend our tribe,” she concluded. 

Muneeb Farrukh is a senior staffer at GeoSuper.tv