Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi is Pakistan’s most successful and best-known tennis player.
For more than two decades, the 38-year-old Lahore athlete has been flying the flag of his country on the highest professional stage in the sport, winning trophies and awards.
The best results of Qureshi were achieved in the doubles, with a career of eight, two finals of the US Open 2010, 16 titles and a memorable victory against Swiss superstar Roger Federer.
But, as Qureshi notes, it was not always smooth for the current player in the top 50 of the Pakistani doubles.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on the sidelines of the Qatar Open, Qureshi spoke with a Pakistani passport about the challenges of globalizing, reviving international sports events in the country and planning to meet the Prime Minister Imran Khan.
I think the government and the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) have not been as successful in delivering my results as I have done in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 on a daily basis. The government could have done a lot to promote this game in Pakistan. PTF could have played a huge role in promoting sport in cities where there are no tennis courts.
Since playing tennis, I have barely built new squares or tennis centers in our cities. There are many people and companies willing to sponsor tennis and other sports, but we need to seek their help.
I had to face a lot every year. My visas were rejected several times. There are places I want to go and play where I could not. There were a couple of times that I could not get a visa for Canada and I failed to play the Roger’s Cup. Last year, I wanted to train for two to three weeks, but I could not get the visa.
I travel a lot and have to go back to Pakistan to apply for a visa, which is very painful, but somehow I try to manage it and plan tournaments accordingly.
There are still times when I feel discrimination and racism, but you learn to live with it.
I do not think the security situation has held us back. The international community has actually kept us from doing anything. We have created security for all and continue to do so. The only factor was that the international community got used to it and gave us the opportunity to show how safe Pakistan and the playing conditions are.
We are a sports-loving nation, no matter what sport we do. As more international sports (events) can return to Pakistan, the level of each sport in the country will improve.
There are still times when I feel discrimination and racism, but you learn to live with it.Aisam Qureshi
In Pakistan there is the attitude “We need a player, we need a player” and then we shake his hand, we hug him and make him our own.
Unfortunately, we lack a plan to produce players. No one actually came out of a system. Even the cricketers were found on the streets or on some cricket pitches and then they try to look after them.
The money must be spent in the right direction and the association must put the players first instead of thinking of themselves. Now, the anti-corruption rule in the country (under the new government) will be an important factor in improving not only tennis but other sports in Pakistan.
For me 100 percent. I really feel that the standard of all sports in Pakistan is getting better. I’m definitely thinking of meeting him (Khan) or his officials and trying to ask him to give me land to build an academy. I was twice rejected by the previous government, so hopefully I’ll be able to build one and produce more Aisam Qureshis.
If it can make a difference in people’s lives and make them understand, then I would like to do that. I would love it if people heard about my struggles. People think I got a silver spoon in my mouth, but they do not know how hard the journey was and how much I worked and sacrificed.