|Yasir Ali Butt, Pakistani professional squash player|
Yasir Ali Butt is a professional squash player from Lahore, Pakistan. He is a friend of Baset Chaudhry, of Trinity College fame. They played together on the Pakistani junior national team. Yasir is currently a member of the senior national team, the team that underperformed in the world champs in Paderborn, Germany, a few months ago and was then controversially banned by the Pakistani Squash Federation from playing any events in his home country for eighteen months.
So he recently moved to the US to pursue his squash career.
Since arriving on US soil Yasir has played in a few PSA events (Dayton Open and the Florida Open) and has done very well, testing a few higher ranked players along the way. He beat Adrian Grant, world number nineteen and gave Alister Walker, New York based world number seventeen, a run for his money. He also recently won the Gold Racquets 'amateur' tournament, after beating US number two Chris Gordon in the finals. Butt is number two in Pakistan after Aamir Atlas Khan, a nephew of the great Jansher Khan.
Yasir is soft spoken and well dressed off the court. On the squash court he is a machine. He is clearly very focused on his squash career. He has been as high as forty in the world; but after suffering injuries and being banned from playing at home is currently ranked seventy two. As a result of his recent successes, he should move back up in the new rankings that come out on January first (when Mr. Willstrop will be at world number one for the first time).
It is great that Yasir is achieving success in the US after being banned from playing in his home country. Perhaps, given that he is free from all the distracting politics back home and can now focus on his squash, it would not be a surprise if he went a lot higher in the squash world rankings in the near future.
BE: There have been so many great Pakistani squash players. The best three players in history are from your home country. Who were the heroes that inspired you to start playing squash and to work hard and accomplish what you have in the sport?
YB: There are many current and former squash players whom I like very much, but, the legend who is my inspiration is Jahangir Khan.
BE: Congratulations on your recent performances on the PSA tour in the United States. This year you have been in three tournament finals, causing many upsets along the way. And you beat American number two Chris Gordon in the finals of the Gold Racquet tournament a few weeks ago. You are recapturing the form that got you to the top forty in the world three years ago. That is great. To what do you attribute this recent success?
YB: I seriously injured my ankle during a training session last year, which prevented me from participating in PSA Tour events for almost six months. My first task was to overcome this career threatening injury. Thanks to my physio who helped me through this. And the second task was to become match fit. For this I spent more time on court and in the gym doing physical training with my trainer, Zahid Butt. With the help of God almighty and millions of prayers of my parents, my hard work paid off in the USA. As far as causing upsets by beating some of the higher ranked players, it wasn't the first time for me. I am very capable of beating top twenty players and I have done it many times before.
BE: What happened to the Pakistani team at the World Champs? It seems there were some serious disagreements between the coaching staff and the players but what were these? Everyone has read various versions of the story but nobody knows what the real issue was. It would be great if you could tell us what really happened in your own words.
YB: Let me correct you. Firstly, there was no coaching staff. There was no coach appointed by the Pakistani Squash Federation for the World Champs. There were not even any training camps conducted to prepare for the big event. As you know, playing in World Champs is entirely different from playing in PSA events, and much of the outcome of the matches depends on the coach's strategy and how he best utilizes his players. But, unfortunately, the person who flew to Germany with us as manager was not capable of doing all the things that would ordinarily be required of a professional squash coach. As a result, we ended with the lowest finishing position in this event in the history of Pakistani Squash.
BE: As a result of the world champs debacle you and a few fellow teammates were banned from playing in tournaments in Pakistan for some time. This makes no sense to me. If the country wants to do better at squash then they should have gone the other way, and locked you guys in a squash court, not banned you from the game. How do you feel about the ban? How has it affected you?
YB: Yes, the squash federation banned three of us. Another player, who lost more matches than the rest of us, was given a warning only. Unfortunately, the rest of the leadership were misled by the secretary of Pakistani Squash Federation who was appointed as a manager during the World Champs and who was trying to justify his position as manager. Then the issue of us being banned wasn't justifyable and even against the bylaws of the Pakistani Squash Federation. Squash legend, Jahangir Khan, added that no executive committee can take disciplinary action against players.
"An independent committee should be formed comprising former squash players to look into this matter," he said, "The federation's officials have no authority to take such a decision."
The Pakistani Squash Federation should appoint an independent committee to proceed on this issue where players can present their point of view without any fear of repercussion. This has affected me negatively in my career. Whenever my country has needed me on the court, I was there from my heart and soul and without any greed for wealth. I have always wished to play for my country and felt proud to wear the green jacket. I have sent an appeal to the new management of Pakistani Squash Federation to have a look at this matter and remove this illegal ban. We are still playing squash outside of our country but unfortunately Pakistan has lost the services of some of the best available talent due to this ban. This is a real loss for Pakistani Squash.
BE: Do you know fellow Pakistani professional squash player, Maria Toorpakai Wazir? Is she a friend and do you think she will achieve her goal of becoming world number one? Do you think she is better off in Toronto than back home in Pakistan?
YB: No, she is not a friend of mine. I have seen her playing though and she is a good squash player, but Pakistan is a developing country and we have very limited resources. Even so, we have had a thread of champions in the past. There are many more talented girls and boys who are left behind just because of limited resources. I think Maria is in good hands now and she should avail herself of the opportunity.
BE: Many of the world's top professional squash players are deciding to be based in the United States. Aside from the PST players there are various PSA playing pros based in New York now. Did this influence your decision to come here?
YB: Yes. This is one of the reasons that I came to the US. Here I will get to play squash with many of the best squash players based in the US. I am a professional player and America has always had a big squash circuit. And as a professional player I always want to play squash and prove my skills in this part of the world, like I have in other parts of the world previously.
BE: Where do you live in New York? With whom and where do you train when you are in the city?
YB: Currently I live in Westchester and am training with Ajaz Azmat. He has been helping me to improve my mental approach towards the top ten players, as well as with court craft, which helped me in my recent events. Anyway, I do train on regular basis and according to my predetermined plan, no matter where in the world I am located at that time.
BE: If you are to be based in the US going forward do you think you will ever become a playing member of the local Pro Squash Tour? Or do you have bigger aspirations on the worldwide PSA tour? You are only twenty four years old and it is clear that you still have a lot of upside potential.
YB: As I said, I am a professional squash player and I love playing squash and I would consider the PST if they made me an offer. But, as you know, some of the older squash players like Palmer, Lincou and Shabana are still playing in the PSA top ten. So, assuming I can also maintain a high level of fitness, I am sure I will be playing professional squash for at least the next five to eight years. And I consider myself capable of doing big things. I feel my best years are still ahead of me.
BE: What do you think needs to change about the sport in Pakistan in order to ensure that many more squash champions emanate from that country?
YB: For the revival of squash in Pakistan, the late Mushaf Ali Meer who started a junior program to prepare a new breed of squash players to bring back the glory of Pakistan in the squash world. His vision became reality when Pakistan regained its glory at the junior level. Unfortunately, life did not gave him enough time to see his bigger vision come true. The current players, including myself, who are representing Pakistan in the squash world and are trying to keep the green flag flying, all come from this program. What we need in the future is sincere squash leadership, someone like the late Mushaf Ali Meer. We need a leader who has vision and who has a love for the game of squash.
BE: Yasir, thank you for granting this interview and good luck with everything in the future.
|Yasir, relaxed and in control, setting up for a backhand|