Abbas Khan
Abbas Khan Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The UAE squash community was mourning the death of top international player and coach Abbas Khan.

Abbas, who had joined his wife and daughter in the UK in March last year, passed away in a hospital in the early hours of Saturday due to COVID sepsis. He was 66.

Playing as a contemporary to his esteemed cousins Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan, the youngster made his international debut in 1973. His most distinguished success on court came in the form of the 1977 French Open title followed by the 1978 Monaco Open crown that saw his career-best ranking at World No. 7.

In 1980, he played in an invitational in Dubai after which he accepted the offer to head the squash coaching with Dubai Police. It was in this position that Abbas went on to guide Sheikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum — later to become the UAE’s lone Olympic gold medallist so far — to a record 10-in-a-row UAE National Squash titles. Sheikh Ahmad etched his name in the UAE’s sporting history books when he gave up squash in 1997 to start his quest for an Olympic gold medal in double trap shooting at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

An outspoken person, Abbas was closely associated with the grass roots development of squash while heading the Technical Committee with the UAE Squash Association, while also doubling up as national team coach.

“I am too shocked with this news. I am lost for words. I cannot say anything now,” Sheikh Ahmad told Gulf News.

Shaikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum at Nad Al Sheba shooting range in Dubai. The Olympic gold medal winner is sceptical about how much success the team will have at this year’s Games. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

“He was a ‘guru’ in every sense of the word. He was passionate, he was stylish and he produced so many champions during his career as one of the best coaches in the world,” Iqbal Khan, coach at the Abu Dhabi Country Club said. “Squash will suffer without him. I feel the association didn’t take enough advantage of his vast knowledge when he was here. He was honest and brave with his work, and one of his constant ire was against younger players who didn’t have enough discipline while pursuing a career in sport.”

Maanav Mandhian, one of the UAE’s top squash players who is currently studying International Business and Sports Management with the reputed George Washington University in the US, remembered his former coach with great reverence and respect.

“He was not only my squash coach, but a role model and a mentor every person should have in their life. One of the most straightforward direct humans in this world, he was disciplined and taught me the importance of applying discipline in life, not just in squash,” Mandhian said. “Abbas Khan will always be in my mind not only when I enter the squash court but for years and years to come. The lessons he taught me are life long lessons.”

Aamir Khan, who coaches at the Khalidiya Palace Rotana in Abu Dhabi was stunned with the news. “He trained some of the top athletes in squash including England’s Adrian Grant [who had a career-best World No. 9 ranking] and quite a few promising players from the UAE including Aamir Khan, Maaz Khatri and myself, who are still playing on the international circuit,” Aamir said. “He had a great knowledge in coaching and he helped many juniors in the UAE take that step ahead. I’m afraid the UAE Squash Association couldn’t make proper use of his talent and coaching techniques. He continued coaching till well in his late 60s, and that just goes on to show his passion, love and dedication to this game.”