As SRFI along with HCL try to bring a change and make squash more accessible to the masses, one of the men at the forefront is Dhruv Dhawan.
Even though its popularity has steadily increased over the years, squash remains one of the most expensive sports to pursue in India. This means that the sport is majorly restricted to the elites of the society.
As the Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) along with HCL try to bring a change and make squash more accessible to the masses, one of the men at the forefront is Dhruv Dhawan – the founder of Squash Xtreme.
A former India international himself, Dhawan is the coach of the junior Indian team. He also trains a host of young Indian squash stars, including the likes of Tanvi Khanna, Shaurya Bawa, Aryan Pratap, and others.
While Tanvi Khanna is an India regular and is the second best Indian woman in the sport behind the veteran Joshna Chinappa as per the SRFI rankings, Bawa and Pratap are ranked fourth and fifth respectively in boys’ U19 in the national circuit.
“Hunger for success more in underprivileged kids”
Hailing from Delhi, Dhruv Dhawan picked up squash during his school days and soon went on to represent India at the junior level. He soon switched to coaching under the guidance of his mentor Lalit Verma – a former Asian Games silver medallist in the sport.
Dhawan has since been working at the grassroots level and strongly believes that the next big Indian squash star would emerge from an underprivileged background.
“We strongly believe that the next squash champion from India will emerge from an underprivileged background,” Dhruv Dhawan said in a conversation with The Bridge.
“This is because we feel the hunger and desire to succeed among the kids with an underprivileged background or from villages is more. In our observation, they are willing to sacrifice more and put in more efforts to succeed. This is not to say a privileged kid would not succeed, but that is where the real champions are going to come out of,” Dhawan added.
To make this a reality, Dhawan and his team are building squash courts in the hills of Jangalia Gaon, Bhimtal near Delhi.
“To felicitate this dream we are already building squash courts in the hills. The aim is to bring out India’s first-ever squash world champion across age groups. If we are able to bring out a world champion from these remote areas, that would motivate people to support squash more,” he said.
Quality coaching programs a necessity
The need of the hour to develop squash in the country is the availability of good-quality coaches, feels Dhawan. This is an area where HCL has worked immensely by holding various coaching programs among others in India.
“I have completed the WSF level 1 certification and quite a lot of coaches in my academy have also completed the level 2 certification which HCL organized as a part of their program. Initiatives like this in India are very much required and HCL is doing a good job on that front. This has been really helpful,” he further added.
India needs to host bigger events
To develop any sport in a country as vast as India, you require high visibility. This can only happen if the country hosts a few high-level tournaments, opines Dhruv Dhawan.
“Immediately after Covid-19, HCL hosted a few PSA tournaments in India – a few $5k and $10k events. The biggest last year was $20k. It does help in getting the rankings of the seniors up, it is something they look forward to,” he said.
“I feel more corporates need to step in. More PSA tournaments need to happen and the bigger PSAs need to happen in India, so that our children also get exposed to that level. We need to host events with bigger prize money,” he added.
“Money should go directly to players”
Dhruv further points out that a majority of Indian squash players, including the seniors representing India at the highest level require a lot more financial support.
“Finances are the biggest challenge for a player in India. Squash is an expensive sport. I think even the top 5 players in India would be at a loss right now, which is crazy,” he stated.
“It has surely improved from the past with organizations like HCL coming in and pumping their money into the sport, but there has to be a system where the money is going directly to the players,” Dhawan added.
If the money being pumped into the sport goes directly to the players, it could play a major role in making parents understand that their kids can make a career out of playing professional squash and not just drop out of the sport once they reach college. It will also help in roping in more talented athletes from the underprivileged section of the society into squash, feels Dhruv Dhawan.
Squash in India has developed a lot over the past few years, but the final frontier will probably be achieved when a kid from the hills of Jangalia Gaon or any other remote region makes a sustainable career out of it.