Maria Toorpakai Wazir, a professional squash player from Pakistan, and Shahd Bshara, a member of the Israel-based urban squash programme SquashBond, participated in two inaugural initiatives launched this week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that saw them advocate for inclusion through sport by sharing their inspiring stories on the eve of the Youth Olympic Games that kick off in the Argentinian capital today.
Squash is introduced as a Showcase Sport at the Youth Olympic Games with 38 young players from 28 countries looking forward to capture imaginations of visiting fans and forum delegates alike.
Toorpakai Wazir, whose remarkable journey to become a professional athlete saw her disguise herself as a boy in order to train, compete and attend school in defiance of imposed Taliban rule in her home region of Waziristan, Pakistan, spoke during a working session entitled “Spark Talk: Fighting for the Right to Play Sport” at the inaugural Olympism in Action Forum – a newly launched IOC programme focused on building a better world through sport.
The world-ranked number 116 is a renowned gender equality advocate and serves on the IOC Women in Sport Commission, aiming to promote equal opportunities for girls and women to participate in, and benefit from sport and physical activity.
“It was very exciting to be part of the Olympism in Action Forum ahead of the Youth Olympic Games this week,” said Toorpakai Wazir
“It is a perfect opportunity and a great platform to talk about the importance of sports and how it can transform individuals and communities and make the world a more humane, peaceful and well connected place to live in.
“I also cannot wait to see squash being showcased at the Games. I want to see squash, the sport that I love the most, becoming part of the Olympic programme soon and the process is very exciting.”
Toorpakai Wazir is one of 300 professional female players competing on the PSA World Tour – the sport’s professional body which jointly administers the male and female game with a commitment to achieving parity in prize money and playing opportunities.
15-year-old Bshara, meanwhile, was chosen as one of four athletes from around the world to form the first Sport at the Service of Humanity Young Leaders Mentoring Program, launched at the Young Leaders Forum on Thursday, October 4, 2018, which aims to prepare athletes and young leaders in sport to “Win in Life” and inspire their communities through the power of their example.
SquashBond, of which Bshara is a member, is a cross-community organisation that helps to bridge the gap between Jewish and Arab cultures in Israel and teaches lifeskills and leadership through the game of squash. The organisation aims to help children and teenagers grow into confident, mature adults who can venture beyond their communities, pursue educational achievements and ultimately jointly promote a shared community.
“I fell in love with squash the moment I first played it five years ago and through squash so many new opportunities and doors have opened for me,” said Bshara, who lives in an Arab town in Israel.
“The opportunity to travel to Argentina and be part of Young Leaders Mentoring Program is a great honour and has been very exciting. I have enjoyed talking to the other mentees and the mentors about squash and to meet and learn from inspirational leaders, who have such vast experience, will help me to develop as a person.
“Learning how sport can help promote peace and empower people is very important and I hope that I can help bring the sport of squash to our community in the future.”
Jacques Fontaine, the World Squash Federation President who is leading the squash delegation in Buenos Aires, commented: “We are very honoured to have such strong voices advocating for inclusion through sport on behalf of the squash family here in Buenos Aires, in a demonstration of squash being at the forefront of breaking cultural and gender barriers through sport. As WSF and PSA are jointly vying for squash to be included in the Olympic Programme, we are proud to have this opportunity to share our ideas and vision with the IOC, Paris 2024 Organising Committee and other Olympic, sport and civil society representatives gathered here in Argentina.”
Toorpakai Wazir imagery courtesy of IOC