If winning is everything then Jahangir Khan no doubt is the most successful sporting figure in history. In five years and eight months from 1981 to 1986, the Pakistani squash player was unbeaten in 555 matches. This is the longest record of consecutive wins by any athlete in any sport. After that loss, he was undefeated for another nine months. Before the decade was out, he had taken six World Open trophies. From 1982 to 1991, he won 10 British Open titles in a row. He is Pakistan’s pride as no other sportsman has dominated his genre of sports for so long. He is a living legend and a role model for every sportsman.

He had so much command over the game that any of his rival players only wanted a respectable defeat from him. In 1982, Jahangir astonished everyone by winning the International Squash Players Association Championship without losing a single point. He also took over the championship of the North American (hardball) game the first time he played it. The list of his victories is long but prominent among those when he led Pakistan to a historic team triumph in the World Team Championship in 1993. For his achievements he was awarded many titles like “The King of Squash” and “Greatest Squash Champion” by the experts of game. He was world’s first squaash millionaire. Jahangir was among the top 60 Asian heroes list from last 60 years by Time magazine, including heroes from all walks of life. After his retirement as a player he was elected many times as unopposed President of World Squash Federation (WSF). Presently, he is Emeritus President of WSF. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Plus Jahangir Khan talked about his career and future plans. Following are excerpts of the interview:

Are you still active in sports activities?

Being the President of World Squash Federation I often have to travel abroad for meetings and other activities. Secondly, I am making a squash club in Karachi which also keeps me busy.

You are hailed as the first superstar in the world of squash. How do you see your career?

It is always pleasant to remember the good old days. In fact when one is achieving success, at that time he does not realise its worth. All is done in spirit and enthusiasm; but now flash back memories make me happy. Wherever I go in the country or abroad I get warm welcome as if I have recently got those victories. People give a lot of respect.

When I used to play at that time there was only PTV. There were no private TV channels in Pakistan as is the case nowadays. Now it provides lot of support to the players. For example, recently, Muhammad Asif won World Snooker Championship which is very good news and media gave him lot of moral support. Similarly, Pakistan Hockey has started to perform well and the team and its federation are being appreciated by everyone.

PIA at that time played the main role in sending player to international tournaments. Air Chief Marshal Nur Khan was a sports enthusiast and he ably facilitated squash players like other sports. I owe to him a lot for the support he provided.

In your book ‘Winning Squash’ you have mentioned that you were the feeblest in your family. How did you manage to change this perception? What spurred you to play squash?

Yes! I was the youngest, feeblest and sickest of the family. I was told that I would never become world champion. Neither the doctor nor my family believed that there would any chance for me to play squash. It was because I was born with hernia and had also the listening problem due to which I started to speak at the age of 7. But despite all that I had craze for squash because my whole family used to play this game. My father was a British Open Champion and my elder brother was also an accomplished player at international level. So I also wanted to play squash. I believed that nothing is impossible in this world; everything can be done and achieved with hard work and effort. I started to play squash at 9 and at the age of 14 I became the youngest ever winner of the World Amateur Individual Championship.

You have been called the fittest person on this planet. How did you maintain your fitness?

Take any game, fitness is the most important factor for any player especially in the games which depend on an individual like squash, long tennis, badminton etc. In such games you have to be more than 100 per cent. Keeping the fact in mind I used to do toughest training including seven miles running, endless court sprints, swimming, gym exercise and the game practice of course. It does not mean that present players are ignorant about these facts. Every player is well aware about facts of fitness and he knows his body better than any coach. But unfortunately players try to find shortcuts. They avoid vigorous training and exercise and ignore the basic fact that success has no shortcuts. Any champion in world has to work hard.

What was your strategy to beat legends like Geoff Hunt?

My strategy to beat the Geoff Hunt or any other opponent was the same, physical fitness and mental determination. There was no other secret; simply I used to crack the ball in the back corner until my rival players were reduced to a pool of sweat. It was my fitness and zest for wining laurels for my country which helped me in getting victories. I made myself fitter than my rival player. Let me remind you the final match of Patrick International Festival in 1983, which lasted for two hours and forty six minutes. It was the longest match on record and I won it by 3-1.

What were your personal feelings when you continued your spree of winning matches?

I never thought of winning spree at that time. The only spirit which used to reign over me was that I had not to lose and for that I never compromised on my fitness. It was a time like a successful businessman, who is always obsessed with flourishing his business and works laboriously day and night. My spirit was also something like that. I always entered into the squash court with the aim to win for my country and for that everyone used to encourage me. Then of course there were other numerous factors like the support of my family and the love and prayers of my fans and the nation.

Any squash player that you felt uncomfortable or reluctant to play?

I never felt reluctance in facing any player. I had full confidence on my training and fitness. But this does not mean there used to be no pressure on me; obviously every match had some pressure on both the rival players because each one were focusing the same goal that is glory and victory. So as I said earlier that I never compromised on my fitness and my training practice, it always gave me an edge over the rival player.

Any match that you still cherish?

Most of British Open matches are cherishing for me which I often recall, especially the 1981 British Open which I played against Geoff Hunt who was a world champion.

Pakistan ruled the world of squash for three decades. Basically it was your family members who continued to win accolodes abroad. Has your family stopped taking interest in this game?

It demands total commitment which I think the coming generation lacks. They have lot more other activities in which they feel comfortable. Now children are more focused on their education and the trend of playing any sport has decreased. One cannot force the children. Enforcing anything is useless because it can never bring good results.

Can Pakistan’s lost glory be revived? What urgent steps and reforms you think need to be taken?

There is a big gap in Pakistani squash and international squash. But everything is possible and Pakistan can revive its lost glory. There are two main factors in this regard. First is related to administration of Pakistan Squash Federation, which should be run by professionals. Without changing the structure and the mindset of the people at the realm of affairs, nothing can be changed. They should deal the matters professionally and efforts should be made towards better to best. Strict merit should be observed. The second factor belongs to the players. They should realise the fact that no champion in the world attains glory without hard work. World champions are fully focused people, they do not believe in shortcuts. Our players should pay heed to their game because for being a world champion one has to sacrifice a lot.

What needs to be beefed up to bring international sports events back to Pakistan?

Sports is the best source of projecting positive image of Pakistan. It is the best diplomacy. Sports have no boundary; there may be any language, religion or beliefs of a country. Sports is the only platform, which unites every nation of the world. Every world champion has his fan following all around the world. So international sports events should come back and Pakistan should host international sport s events. The government should play its role by make the Pakistani environment conducive for international sports events.

In your view what has changed in the world of squash since the days when you used to play?

Take any game and you will know that every game has changed with the passage time. Rules keep changing with the passage of time. Similarly, in squash many changes have taken place for example the glass has been removed from the court.

During your career has there ever been an attempt to fix matches? Did some agent ever approach you?

Every unbeaten player is approached for that and I was dominating squash for five and a half year; but my conscience never accepted that dishonesty. I always ignored such things and winning laurels for my country had always been my focus.

Coaching and referees are perhaps not given priority in Pakistan. Why is it so? Have you ever thought about coaching Pakistani or international players?

We have four referees of international standard and there is a proper examination system for that. Secondly, I have always been getting offers for coaching but I did not accept any because it is a full time job which I think I cannot do as I am engaged in many other activities. I cannot think doing it as an unprofessional way as many people use to do. Further more, only a good coach does not matter, students or the players should also be equally good. They should be professional and sincere to their game and should also listen to their coach. I personally feel that players are not focused to their game and they have lot more detraction. I think complete dedication is required.

You have played in many countries of the world and have a worldwide fan following. What in your view is the best thing about being a Pakistani?

I love to live in my own country. The respect which I get from my own nation cannot be anywhere in the world. Even though wherever I go in the world find my fans are there but the best thing about my country is that my people are like my family. I stopped playing tennis in 1993 but even now I am respected as if I am the present world champion.

How do you see the future of squash in Pakistan? Are we moving in the right direction?

There is no dearth of talent in Pakistan, but the basic thing is to groom that talent on scientific lines. For that lot more needs to be done. People should realise their professional responsibilities. Everything will be alright only if true efforts are made in right direction. Merit should never be underestimated and there should be no compromise on hard work. The government and private sectors should come forward to improve the sports in Pakistan which I think is an ignored reality in our country.