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Shabana Khan's squash events brings global visibility to Bellevue

Shabana Khan's squash events brings global visibility to Bellevue
Shabana Khan is known globally in the sport of squash, recognition earned first as a national-champion player and now as a producer of national and international events that include a series of first-time competitive gatherings, all in Bellevue over the next three months. But she faces the frustrating irony that while she is putting the name of the Eastside's largest city on the world squash map, she has generated little attention or support from the city or its leadership.
 
shabanaBut she learned Tuesday that Microsoft has decided to provide a key sponsorship that will ease but not eliminate the financial pressure, as she has raised about $250,000 of a projected $350,000 in costs.
 
The comment about "little attention or support" may seem like a harsh statement, but I've been following Shabana's squash accomplishments since a month before the Men's World Championships in late 2015 when I was asked to help direct her to individuals who might support her efforts.

And except for a donation from developer Kemper Freeman to specifically allow her to say he was a supporter, and an unsuccessful effort by City Councilman Conrad Lee to enlist council financial support for the 2015 men's event, she has gotten only modest backing, mostly "friends and family," as she puts it.

Redmond's PRO Sports, which attracts many Microsoft employees from the campus across the street and where Shabana coaches, has been a key supporter.

In the end, despite the financial challenges faced by her YSK Events company, the men's world event, put on at Meydenbauer Center, came off well, prompting expressions of gratitude from squash participants and executives who gathered in Bellevue from around the world. A Frenchman defeated an Egyptian in the final match to become world champion in a sports event as exciting and competitive as any I've witnessed.

Before getting involved with the Shabana's men's-event initiative, I had little knowledge of squash, which is racket sport similar to racketball, played by two or four players in a four-walled court (glass walls for most international events that are broadcast globally) using a small, hollow rubber ball.

Later, as I learned how many of my friends and colleagues are or were avid squash players, I was informed that squash players and fans represent a highly targeted and sought after demographic of men and women with median incomes of more than $300,000 and an average net worth of nearly $1,500,000.

The website for squash notes: "Squash players are business owners and senior executives in upper management throughout corporate America along with research physicians, architects, attorneys, and accountants."

And Forbes magazine several years ranked squash as "the number one healthiest sport."

Shabana is the kind of business-of-sports figure, a lithe 48 year old who is a former national women's squash champion and one of the best in the world in her playing prime, who would be sought out for encouragement and support in most communities for her leadership role.

Her stature on the national scene of her sport was evidenced when last October, at the National Squash Championship in Philadelphia, she was honored with the award given each year for major administrative contributions to the sport, recognition for the men's world event.

But rather than gathering support, she told me that when she went to Meydenbauer to explore holding the 2017 events there, "They were very adamant for us to move this event to Seattle or some other city."

That prompted Shabana, in seeking another site, to find the Boys and Girls Club in Bellevue's Hidden Valley area, which she enthuses turned out to be a more ideal site, one excited about hosting the events as a showcase for the four-glass-walls court in its new facility.

The capstone of the events this spring is the first Bellevue Squash Classic, the sport's equivalent of a stop on the PGA tour that will bring 16 of the top players in the world to the Pacific Northwest for a $200,000 event described as "possibly the most lucrative event in tour history."

Khan is looking for a major sponsor, as well as event sponsors, for her array of events since Wells Fargo, which had the $25,000 sponsorship and wound up with its name carried around the squash world since all the matches were streamed worldwide, has for various reasons not renewed.

The kind of community support she wishes she could find in Bellevue is something that would be a given in other communities that had the opportunity to have the brass ring as emerging center of what is becoming an increasingly popular sport in many places around the world.

And the growing popularity has apparently seen this country emerge as the third fastest-growing in the world for the sport.

"We support this opportunity to showcase the diversity and talent of these players from around the world," she said. "It's an opportunity to keep politics out and focus on the diversity that brings communities and countries to get together celebrating athleticism and skill."

"Her squash efforts represent an example of cultural experiences that deserve support," Lee said. "We don't have things that attract people from other parts of the world to share and thus this is an important opportunity, particularly the focus on events for young people."

And the focus on young people will be highlighted by the second West Coast College Showcase, a new event she created last year to expose what she describes as "unfound squash talent" to college coaches from around the country who gather to find the young people they want to recruit.

YSK Events, which she founded three years ago to focus on squash events, is a family affair in several ways. She serves as CEO while her younger brother, Murad, serves as president, and sister Latasha, who was women's national champion when Shabana defeated her to take the crown, is vice president for business development. It's also a family affair in that the "Y" in YSK stands for both her 10-year-old daughter, Yasmine, who is 15th in the country in her age group, and her father, Yusuf, who was nine-time India champion when the Seattle Tennis Club hired him in 1968 to come to Seattle to be head tennis pro. The "S" and the "K" are her initials.

I learned the import of the name Khan because of an exchange with my former UPI boss, now retired in Connecticut, who reached out to me after my first column on Shabana in late 2015 and shared that the reason I couldn't get hold of him during the afternoons, when I would call his New York office from Los Angeles was that "we were all out playing squash."

But when I was told him I was going to take some squash lessons from Shabana, he said: "Are you telling me you are going to get private lessons from a member of the Khan family? You can't know how jealous I am."
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Human drama at men' World Squash event as compelling as the on-court competition

The final round of the men's World Squash Championship Sunday offered more than enough competitive drama as Frenchman Gregory Gaultier's long frustration at this event ended with a championship trophy. But the human drama and emotion that involved both Gaultier and his finals opponent, Egyptian Omar Mosaad, was equally compelling.

 
The visible human drama was in the minute of silence from the audience, in recognition of the recent Paris terrorist attack and its grim toll, that greeted Gaultier at the outset of the tournament a week ago.There was poignant drama in Gaultier's victory itself since the victory in the finals followed four consecutive trips to the finals with Gaultier being beaten on of all of those occasions.

The human drama that was not visible to the audience and known to only a few was the tragedy that had befallen the Egyptian, a tall and muscular competitor whose build and chiseled features could allow him to be cast as a warrior defending a Pharoh.

Mosaad's mother and sister were killed in a car accident last summer. His young nephew and niece survived and Mossad has taken responsibility for the children.
Mosaad has indicated how difficult it was to get back on course in preparation for the world championships while dealing with the emotional and actual details of the tragedy.

Mosaad's road to the final match with Gaultier was storied in its own way since he was down the list of Egyptian squash competitors. Egypt is one of the capital's of squash in the world, along with India, France and England. Mosaad defeated one of the two acknowledged Egyptian squash kingpins on his way to the match with Gaultier.

The victory was over defending champion Ramy Ashour, the Egyptian he had never beaten. But the victory came as a result of a leg injury Ashour suffered in the midst of the match. Tears flowed from both men as Mosaad's victory came about.

Shabana Kahn, the Seattle resident and former national women's squash champion who put on this first ever men's world squash championship in the United States, said "for these two players to get into the finals, everything had to be perfectly in place. They were meant to be there. It was very magical."

India-born Shabana and her 28-year-old brother,Murad, who assisted her in planning and overseeing the week-long event, was pleased with the response of the squash players who showed up from around the world. Shabana and her brother have gotten accolades from the players for the quality of the work they did in helping address issues the players encountered.

Now, she says, it's a matter of settling up the outstanding bill with Meydenbauer Center, where the event was held, and hope that she will find some help in not losing a lot of money from an event that she put on in honor of her squash-legend father.
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Success of Men's Squash world event facing challenge of dollar support

When Shabana Khan won the rights to put on the 2015 Men's World Squash Championship in Bellevue in November, she hoped it would provide the community an opportunity to promote its role as host of a world-championship sports events, foster a sense of community involvement and support empowering a woman entrepreneur.

But Khan, an athletic 47 year old who is part of what's been described as Seattle's First Family of Professional Squash and was once ranked number one among the nation's women squash players, hasn't yet been able to muster the local financial support necessary to ensure the success of the event 
 
 
.

At this point, Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee has become her advocate in the quest to have the City of Bellevue participate, something that would be a given in other communities that had the opportunity to grab the brass ring of a sports-event world championship. 
Lee, who as the only Chinese local elected official in the state may be more attuned than most elected officials to the importance of understanding the attitudes and interests of those foreign residents, is convinced after meeting with Shabana Khan that the city must support the event.

Kahn had ambitious goals in outbidding other cities to be able to put on the first men's squash world championship event ever held in this country, which takes place November 13-22 at Meydenbauer Center and has attracted 112 of the world's top squash players.

She was emboldened to go after the most prestigious event in the squash world and bring it to Bellevue after she had successfully partnered with her father, Yusuf, who was responsible for turning the Seattle area into a center for squash, to put on the Women's World Championship in 1999.

"After hosting the Women's World Championships, I felt very confident in being able to bring the world's major squash event to this area," she said.

"Additionally as a former player I wanted to take the sport to a new level and treat these amazing athletes how they truly should be treated," she said. "I had set out to create a new standard for the sport and expectation of the most prestigious event on the Professional tour."

Most important, she wanted to thank her ailing father for his role in building the Seattle area into the center of squash in the Western U.S., after the 10-time India squash champion brought his family to Seattle in 1968.

The senior Khan started his own racquet club but soon merged it into the Seattle Athletic Club, which he then helped build into one of the most successful squash clubs in the country. In addition, four of his eight children have been professional squash players, including Shabana who in 2001 beat her younger sister, Latasha, the reigning national champion, to claim the title "best in the family," which is the case of the Khans, meant best in the country.

Lack of a commitment for a major sponsor for the 2015 men's event and the reluctance of some seemingly logical major local companies to step up with financial support for the men's championships have left Khan facing the prospect of a financial shortfall of perhaps $150,000. Her original budget was $1.1 million but she has already pared that to about $800,000.

A negative image for Bellevue corporate and community support may be unfair, as Bellevue Chamber of Commerce President Betty Capistany suggests.   

Putting some perspective on the lack of major financial support, Capistani made the point that "a new event that it not on people's radar needs significant lead time to get in the event budgets of major corporations."
"And the financial involvement of major corporations is much smaller than before 2008," she added.
Khan says advance ticket sales have accounted for $130,000 of the revenue and hopes that the ticket sales can be boosted with sufficient social media focus. 
The irony of the lack of sufficient support was framed in a Seattle Times article early this summer. "The world championships will be a coming-out party for what will be a $12.5 million renovation of Bellevue's convention center as well as a ramped-up effort by the city and its tourism marketing organization, Visit Bellevue Washington, to showcase the city and attract leisure and convention visitors".

Her largest financial supporter at this point is Pacific Marketing International (PMI), an early pioneer with contract manufacturing in China and Southeast Asia that has become a product development and manufacturing organization with offices in eight countries. Rob Harris, PMI CEO, has committed $80,000 to the event and, as an avid quash player, is a longtime fan of the Khan family.

"I didn't hesitate to jump in and I have no idea why she isn't getting the support she needs," Harris said. "My word! This is a huge opportunity. The world championships of a sport played all over the world."
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