Interview by RJ Mitchell
On Monday, the prestigious Allam British Open would have been capturing the attention of squash fans around the world but one of the tournament’s greatest champions, the iconic Jansher Khan, himself bravely battling the onslaught of Parkinson’s disease, has backed squash to beat COVID-19 and bounce back: “Bigger, better and stronger when it’s safe to do so”.
One of the game's greatest ever players with a record-breaking haul of eight world championships, six British Opens and an amazing 99-titles, Jansher ruled as undisputed World No.1 for 10 years between 1987 and 1998.
Yet the squash immortal, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2011, has also revealed he had even been back on court prior to the onset of the virus and the subsequent phased partial lockdown implemented in his native Pakistan.
But as he looked forward with a steely resolve, the great Khan has issued a rallying call by saying he has no doubt that squash has never been stronger and more ready to beat “this great test” and continue the game’s journey back to rude health.
“I know that these are no easy times and that many people all over the world have lost their lives because of COVID-19 and of course that all sport has had to be suspended, but I know one thing, and that is, Inshallah (If God Wills), squash will beat this disease and come back bigger, better and stronger, when it is safe to do so,” said Khan.
“The PSA has done so much to grow and build our game and I know that they will not let this virus beat squash. If you look at the figures of all the people who watch squash on SQUASHTV, of the people who follow our sport across all forms of media, then you know one thing and that is that squash matters an awful lot to a great many people all over the world.
“We know that already great progress is being made to reduce the impact of the virus through lockdowns and to make safe environments for people to live their lives and that so much fantastic work is being channelled into finding a vaccine to combat the coronavirus and, Inshallah, that will come soon.
Jansher Khan with the 1996 British Open trophy
“But of one thing I have complete belief, and that is that squash will be back and that it will be back when it is safe for it to come back. I pray for that day to come and I believe it will return before too long.”
Determined to deliver a positive message to squash fans currently on lockdown around the globe, Jansher made it clear that he believes the game has never been better prepared to meet the challenges caused by the PSA World Tour’s enforced suspension due the COVID-19 virus, and that thanks to the work of SQUASHTV, the sport has never been so “dynamic and captivating” to watch, as he told of his pride in the growth of the game he ruled in the 90s.
The 50-year-old said: “The PSA World Tour has grown and become so strong, and I am proud of what it has done for the game. We have so many great players from so many countries and there is no doubt that they are working hard to drive the level of play up all the time and to provide squash fans all around the world with excitement and entertainment.
“On top of that the television coverage through SQUASHV has made the game so much more dynamic and captivating to watch and I am missing all of that right now. I must be honest and say that when I watch some of these fantastic matches, I am jealous I am not out there competing with these guys.”
While the record-breaking eight-time World Champion is a fan of many of the current crop of PSA World Tour stars, Jansher reserves special credit for current World No.1 Mohamed ElShorbagy: “I did enjoy watching Ramy Ashour, he was a huge talent and it was a great pity that a knee injury, as it did mine, ended his career much too early but I do like to watch (Mohamed) ElShorbagy,” revealed Jansher.
“What I like about Mohamed is that he works extremely hard on his game and every time he gets on court, he brings thunder. Yes, he has huge talent but he also has a huge work ethic and that is a lesson to all aspiring squash players.”
Despite battling against Parkinson’s disease for almost a decade, Khan says that he is in his best shape for years and had even been treading the boards once again prior to the onset of COVID-19.
“My health is good and I am happy and very active and if anything I would say that now, although I am in my fifties and with the issues I have had to deal with, I am fitter than I was at 35.
“I am walking, running and until recently I was playing squash again and, Inshallah, things are good for me. But in these tough times it is important that everyone in squash sticks together and believes in the hard work of the PSA to bring our fantastic game through this great test.”