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News‘Sport teaches you to interact with each other on a human level...

‘Sport teaches you to interact with each other on a human level … One shouldn’t be mixing politics or religion with sport’

                <em>Pakistan’s<strong> Aisam ul Haq Qureshi</strong> and India’s Rohan Bopanna, the 2010 US Open doubles runners up, recently announced the resumption of their partnership after a gap of seven years for a tournament held last month. Qureshi spoke to<strong> Siddharth Saxena</strong> about it:</em>

What does this partnership mean in the larger context of animosity between the two countries?

The feedback, the positivity, we have received from everybody has been unbelievable. I never thought us getting together for just one tournament would create such a buzz and goodwill. The fact that we are getting such positive feedback from everybody – the fans, the media – means that everybody wants us to play, everybody wants us to do well together and perhaps, everybody loves to see an Indian and a Pakistani play together, as a team. I think the message there is clear enough. Both Rohan and I are ambassadors of peace for our countries, we do our best to promote peace between the neighbours. If someone can see this partnership for what it is, in a positive way and it can help change their thinking about India or Pakistan or Pakistanis or Indians, I would see it as a big win in itself.

You and Bopanna started the Stop War, Start Tennis campaign. Could you talk a bit about that?

We started the Stop War, Start Tennis initiative to promote peace across the border and across the world as well. The idea was trying to promote peace through our sport, our friendship, our partnership. I still stand by it, in fact I’ve turned it into a charity now, with the same name, which aims to help and support people all over the world affected by war and natural disasters. I try to provide tennis equipment and tennis-specific wheelchairs for those who lost their limbs to war. The foundation was very active during the Covid time with food ration packets.

But Stop War, Start Tennis isn’t just narrow in scope to tennis alone. It includes other sports as well, because we believe if every person on this planet is involved in some sport of any kind, war becomes a distant memory. Sport teaches you to interact with each other on a human level and not because of the culture, religion or country they are from.

Do you think it’s possible for the two countries to continue playing each other even when things are turbulent?

For me, it’s an obvious thing to do, it’s definitely possible. To me, playing each other is never off the table. I’ve always believed one shouldn’t be mixing politics or religion with sports or the arts. The governments shouldn’t be doing the cancelling and banning. It’s sad that India has imposed this ban on Pakistani artistes and sportspersons to come to India to perform or play. Discrimination towards a certain nation or country or a group of people is a very unfortunate fallout. I love coming to India, whenever I have visited or to play or compete. I don’t think sports, the arts and culture should ever be affected by political differences.

You boycotted the tie when India refused to travel to Pakistan for the Davis Cup and a neutral venue was being proposed.

People are different, certain things we believe in, and stand by that. As a sportsman, I always tried never to mix sports with politics or religion and I really stand by it, when I played with the Jewish guy (Amir Hadad in 2002), when I played with Rohan also. For me, it was very unfortunate, sad and disappointing when the Indian team decided not to come to Pakistan. It was more of a political reason, as they had no threat whatsoever coming to play in Pakistan. So many Indians are allowed to come to Pakistan for the Kartarpur Sahib pilgrimage, so a seven or ten-member Davis Cup team had no threat whatsoever.

After the Davis Cup episode, what made you turn to him again?

This had nothing to do with the Davis Cup issue. Rohan ‘Bops’ is a very good friend of mine, on and off the court. I’ve known him for a very long time. Nothing changed in our relationship, our friendship stays the same as always.

Now that the partnership with Rohan is over, where does it go from here?

It was great fun partnering Rohan again in Mexico. Rohan and I didn’t get to speak too much about the future. I think he’s already set with certain players to play with this season and the Mexico Open was just a one-off.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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