Sunday September 9, 2012
Azlan’s job now is to churn out winners instead of winning titles
By KNG ZHENG GUAN
EXACTLY a week ago, Mohd Azlan Iskandar called time on his professional squash career, bringing to an end his two-year tenure as the national No.1 and an illustrious career that spanned 13 years.
Since turning professional at 17, Azlan, now 30, has made it to 24 Professional Squash Association (PSA) Tour finals – and winning 13 titles.
His most memorable moment is arguably winning the Malaysian Open for the third time in 2010, having previously won it in 2004 and 2007.
The year 2010 also proved to be Azlan’s best in squash as he won his first Asian Games singles gold medal and the Asian Championship for the first time – thus cementing his status as one of Asia’s top players.
But a combination of injuries eventually took its toll on Azlan and he finally hung up his racquet – leaving close friend and rival Ong Beng Hee to hold the fort for Malaysian squash.
But he’s not about to just ride into the sunset.
The Sarawakian is actually determined to help popularise the sport and help develop the game at community level and in rural areas.
In fact, he has been quietly working on developing the game for the past one year. He has been travelling around the country to conduct squash clinics for schoolchildren in rural areas and setting up his own squash academy – the Azlan Iskandar Squash Academy (Aisa).
To date, Azlan has set up four academies – three in Sarawak and one in Kemaman, Terengganu. He plans to set up at least two more – one each in Negri Sembilan and Kelantan – before the end of the year.
Even then Azlan, who is still deeply passionate about the sport and trains daily, feels that this is just a small step towards his goal of making squash one of the most popular sports in Malaysia.
But what made him stop playing?
“After travelling all the world for so many years and competing in tournaments with government funding, I felt that something was not right ... I couldn’t find the inspiration to give it 100% to the sport,” explained Azlan.
“So I felt that it was time for me to move on to my next set of goals – giving back to the sport, something I am passionate about.
“I will focus on developing the physical infrastructure for squash, doubling the number of courts in Malaysia and ensuring that the popularity of the sport penetrates the masses and the game becomes more accessible.
“While travelling across Malaysia last year, I discovered that the response towards squash was actually phenomenal ... in Kemaman itself we had about 110 kids signing up for the coaching clinics.
“The only problem we face is that we do not have basic squash infrastructures in most parts of the country and there aren’t enough platforms for people to get involved socially.
“The Squash Racquets Association Malaysia (SRAM) have done a really good job with their junior programme but they can’t cover everything, so that’s where I come in.
“I’ve been working on raising funds to build two more courts in Kelantan and an academy in Seremban.
“We’re also looking to secure some fundings from the Rakan Muda programme as well as from the Ministry of Education.”
But Azlan is well aware of the need for schoolchildren to balance their studies with sports.
Aisa, he said, are looking to reach an agreement with the Cempaka International Ladies College and the Cempaka International School to offer scholarships to selected students with potential.
That, though, is still a work in progress.
Having done his part to bring glory to the country as a player and now trying to do his bit to popularise the sport among the grassroots level, Azlan certainly deserves to be commended.
Azlan’s vision to develop the sport may still be in its infancy but with his passion and drive, the future certainly looks bright for Malaysian squash – irrespective of whether it makes the 2020 Olympics.