Last week was a busy one for Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi. In Karachi, at the 10th Lux Style Awards Ceremony, the biggest showbiz award institution in Pakistan, he was voted 'The Most Stylish Sportsman'. Hours later, Qureshi was flying to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northwest Pakistan. The city of Peshawar is known for two things, special naan bread and violent clashes between the military and Taliban rebels. However, it was not any bakery that destroyed one of Pakistan’s oldest and most prestigious tennis clubs, the Pakistan Tennis Club Peshawar (PTCP), but rather hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been displaced from their homes due to prolonged violence.
The lush green lawn tennis courts of the PTCP quickly became a safe haven for the refugees and their animals. Over the past few years, the six lawn courts have been camped on by hundreds of families, trampled on by herds of cows and munched to bits by thousands of goats. Recently, a refugee settlement was erected nearby and the tennis club was vacated. However, the damage done was devastating. Qureshi brought his 'Stop War, Start Tennis' campaign to town with hopes of resurrecting the club and giving local children a chance to play tennis as part of their rehabilitation from years of violence.
After surveying the damage to the club and receiving a financial estimation of the repairs needed - $19,000 dollars to rebuild the six grass courts plus four smaller hard courts for mini-tennis and clubhouse - Qureshi met with nearly 100 children and adults where he delivered a message of hope. He then spoke on the importance of determination to recover emotionally and to begin rebuilding lives.
Two days later, Qureshi participated in a live televised press conference telethon with the National Disaster Management Authority, in which he announced that the memorabilia collected from ATP World Tour stars like, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and doubles partner Rohan Bopanna would be auctioned in Dubai with all proceeds going to flood relief.
"As a UNDP Ambassador for flood relief and natural disasters I have seen and heard many heartbreaking stories of people who have lost everything in an instant," Qureshi said. "All I can do is to try and offer hope and encouragement to those people affected. The lessons I have learned from tennis, especially the one on never giving up on your dreams, I have tried to translate to my countrymen. Being fortunate enough to travel on the ATP World Tour and then witnessing all this suffering is at times overwhelming. However, I am proud of my fellow tennis players like the Bryan brothers and other stars who never hesitated a second to help out when I asked. I think all of us on the Tour know how blessed we are."