On Sunday, India’s Vikram Malhotra won his 12th Professional Squash Association (PSA) title when he clinched the Men’s Oregon Open Challenger Tour Event in Portland and became the most successful Indian player in the men’s circuit.
On the same day back at home in Chennai, his teammate Saurav Ghosal claimed his 13th men’s national crown.
Two outstanding results for Indian players, but Vikram will not see his name in the Indian squad for the Asian Team Championship in Kuala Lumpur from March 25-29. But Saurav is a shoo-in for a spot in the squad.
The Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) had earlier decided that only players who participate at their national championships would be considered for national duties.
Vikram, who turned professional in 2015, opted to put his career ahead of national duties.
Malaysia’s Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong opted to turn professional early last year. The duo were not selected for the recent Asian Team Championships despite being the second best ranked pair in the country.
V Shem-Wee Kiong could have collected some valuable ranking points at the championships in their chase for a Tokyo 2020 berth.
Two cases in two different countries that exemplifies that the some governing bodies in sports do not appreciate players need to earn a living.
While it is every athletes dream to don national colours, should that stop them from pursuing their professional career? After all, sporting career is not a lifelong path for all.
While the likes of Serena Williams and Gianluigi may defy longevity on the playing arena, many do not play on into even their 30s. And not all sportsmen make the transition into coaching or sports administration.
While the two cases above show the intolerance of sports officials, sports like tennis, basketball and football are in the other end of the spectrum.
With many of the best players in these sports, playing professionally, their associations actively engage the players and find a common ground to ensure their national team participation.
The US Dream Team winning the basketball at the Olympics or Rafael Nadal leading the Spanish team to the Davis Cup victory would not have been possible otherwise.
Sports has grown beyond just about national sentiments. While representing the national team has its own charm and prestige, earning a living and in turn helping their employers gain recognition has also gained traction.
Lewis Hamilton may be British but each of his victories in in the name of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Team. When Tiger Woods wins, it is not enhancing the USA, but rather the brand name Tiger.
When Cristiano Ronaldo scores another goal in the Serie A, it is not for Portugal, but rather for his paymasters, Juventus FC.
Picking a professional sports career comes with its own intricacies. He will need to balance both his career as well as national duties. He needs to ensure not only that he earns enough money to keep going but also to keep doing enough to promote his sponsors.
The difference between how top badminton and squash players are treated as compared to tennis and football players has also much to do with their earning power.
Tennis and football players earn many folds more and with that have more clout in how national team participation is approached. Their earning prowess grows on par with their brand name.
While top tennis players can pick and choose whether they want to turn up for the country in events like the Davis Cup, Federation Cup and even the Olympics, squash and badminton players do not have the same luxury.
Football players like Lionel Messi can even dictate how the team should play.
But a large percentage of sportsmen do not reach the same heights and are at the mercy of officials who have no sensitivity of the needs and obstacles of a professional player struggling to make ends meet.
Top players and their employers are also wary of the injuries the players may sustain while being on national duty. Any serious injury would cut their professional career short and with that their capacity to earn a living.
Should participation for national team be at the expense of furthering ones sports career?