Doubles team has message of peace

BY foxsports • September 10, 2010

Given a platform, not everyone knows how to make the most of it but that charge could never be leveled against Aisam-Ul-Hag Qureshi. Quickly putting aside the disappointment of a 7-6, 7-6 loss in the doubles final of the U.S. Open to Mike and Bob Bryan, the Pakistani with the Indian partner grabbed his moment to address the largest crowd he has ever played in front of on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It was pretty heavy, talking to so many people,” Qureshi smiled. “I didn’t want to take the limelight away from Rohan (Bopanna) or the Bryans but since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries, I feel people have the wrong impression of Pakistan as a terrorist nation. I just wanted to declare that we are a very friendly, caring and loving people and that we want peace in this world as much as Americans. We are all on the same side. There are extremists, I think, in every religion but just because of them you can’t judge the whole country as a terrorist nation.”

Qureshi had earned the right to make his statement for the courage both he and Bopanna had shown in ignoring political and religious pressure by teaming up, and the eventual success of their partnership — after much slogging around the challenger circuit — has become one of the most heart-warming sports stories of the year.

This was their first Grand Slam final and their success had induced a rare sight in the sporting world — Indians and Pakistanis sitting side-by-side cheering for the same team. The fact that the Bryans proved too good for them on this occasion — they had lost to this rapidly improving pair in Washington DC last month — did not dampen everyone’s enthusiasm for this special match.

If the American twins were in any doubt that it was different to their other eight Grand Slam doubles titles, they got the drift when their press conference was interrupted by the arrival of both the Pakistani and Indian Ambassadors at the United Nations to drape them with silk scarves.

But the Bryans knew that they were participating in a little bit of history.

“It’s a game, you know,” said Mike Bryan. “When it comes down to it, a lot of people in Pakistan don’t have homes and are out on the street. What these guys are doing to bring Pakistan and India together is pretty special. Hopefully these two can stick together. It’s going to do great things for doubles and great things for everything.”

Without getting too deep into the history of it all, when the exiting British colonialists set up partition in 1947, the result was a bloodbath. The creation of Pakistan was supposed to divide and safeguard Muslims from Hindus but the wounds have never really healed. Both nations acquired nuclear weapons and have been bristling at each other ever since.

Over the decades, the only thing that has brought the two nations together in close proximity is Britain’s best legacy — a game called cricket. On and off — depending on the political climate — the two nations have played each other at either five day test cricket or the shorter version of the game and, with the fairly recent expansion of television viewing for the masses, it is estimated that about one billion people watch these contests.

But the current Pakistan cricket tour of England has been ruined by allegations of match tampering by betting syndicates who seem to have compromised three or four members of the Pakistani team. The uproar has reached such a pitch back home that one member of the team has applied for political asylum in Britain, fearing for his life.

The scandal could not have come at a worse time because cricket provides this impoverished, embattled country with its outlet for joy. But, after a terrorist attack a couple of years ago on a team bus, Pakistan has been unable to play matches at home. That was bad enough but then bad floods came to the area — and then the betting scandal.

All this has put even greater focus on the exploits of Qureshi who, by reaching his first Grand Slam final, has probably become, just for the moment, the most popular sports personality in Pakistan.

Both players speak from the heart and speak eloquently. Both are obviously fully aware of what they are achieving and what they believe they can achieve if they continue to improve.

“We know that to do well in big events is the only way to pass on that message,” says Bopanna. “We are trying to promote peace through sports. Even if, you know, 2 or 3 percent of people change their minds, saying if they can get along, why can't we?”

Qureshi picks up the theme.

“I would have to say today, getting to the final, was a small step towards it. We always said sport can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach. I think it’s above all the religion and politics. I am seeing every day the crowd is getting better. More Indians and Pakistanis coming. They’re all mixing together in the crowd. You can’t tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian. That’s the beauty about sports. That’s the beauty, I guess, about our playing.”

Both players insist they have had very little negative reaction.

“For myself, I think most people realize that Rohan is helping me popularize this sport in Pakistan,” says Qureshi. “He probably doesn’t know but he is very popular in Pakistan. Every time my news comes up, his name is right there next to me. And I’m very happy and proud that I can send positive news back home and good news for the people to cheer about. Pakistan has been going through a lot in the past two or three years from all the terrorist attacks and the flooding and the cricket scandal, also.”

The Bryans’ father, Wayne, a lawyer and a tennis coach, shares his sons’ views.

“What they are trying to do for world peace is just amazing,” said Bryan. “Our sport is just so international and, like no other, it can draw people together from all over the globe. And now we have an Indian and a Pakistani playing together. They deserve enormous credit. Let’s hope people get the message.”

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