Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi kicked off his Stop War Start Tennis Tour in Yangon, Myanmar as chief guest at the 1st Annual Myanmar International Tennis Project last week.
Qureshi, who was joined by former ATP World Tour player Jean-Philippe Fleurian, participated in a pro-am fundraising dinner and hosted a Kid’s Day – featuring 1,000 children aged six to 10 from 15 Yangon public and private schools – for an introduction to mini-tennis. Qureshi and Fleurian’s visit to Myanmar was to help prepare the nation for the upcoming Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Groups III and IV ties and the South-east Asia Games in 2013.
“We are most grateful to the ATP for providing such special players like Aisam Qureshi and Jean-Philippe Fleurian for coming to Myanmar,” said U Aung Maw Thein, president of the Tennis Federation of Myanmar (TFM). “They showed the true spirit of the ATP World Tour by giving back to the game of tennis. Together they proved that through tennis, our kids can learn to be happy, healthy and culturally tolerant.”
Qureshi, who arrived in the early hours of Friday morning, was the keynote speaker for the conference at the International School of Yangon. The Pakistani talked about how the ATP World Tour tennis teaches people to understand and respect different religious and political views, as well as ethnic backgrounds. “Tennis gives us the tools for a better life,” said Qureshi. “Through tennis, I have experienced that sport can bring tolerance, counter discrimination and eradicate prejudices. Tennis can serve as a bridge over troubled waters.”
During this year’s ATP World Tour events at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris and the Barclay ATP World Tour Finals in London, Qureshi asked Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kei Nishikori and Shingo Kuneida (London 2012 Paralympics singles gold medallist) for autographed match shirts to be auctioned in Myanmar. The five shirts raised a total of $5,460 for the Tennis Federation of Myanmar orphans to tennis program.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Jean-Philippe Fleurian. “Tennis has provided Aisam, Inaki Balzoa and myself such a great life. We are very happy to find projects like these around the world, where we can give back to those who need it most. With this project in Myanmar, we felt like we could make a world of difference for teachers and kids who need it most.”
Qureshi was elected as a United Nations Development Project (UNDP) National Goodwill Ambassador two years ago. He finished his speech by saying, “We live in a very cruel world. A world where natural disasters, disease and war are literally on our door steps every day. We live in a world where bad things happen to good people. I used to get caught up in my own world of rankings and results.
“A few years ago, I began visiting areas that have been affected by war. I have had to travel to regions that have been pounded by earthquakes and ravaged by floods. Entire communities that have had livelihoods and homes wiped out in one night, children who have been orphaned by sectarian violence. I have met young kids who have lost limbs and loved ones due to sectarian violence. Through the ATP World Tour STARS program I have visited hospitals where sick little ones, who are most certainly going to die, are hooked up to tubes and monitors. Or village elders who praise Allah when you arrive in a cargo helicopter with fresh water and the promise shelter. Witnessing these things puts life into perspective.”
Qureshi left Yangon immediately after the event and travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan where he will be the keynote speaker for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on how sport can serve as a deterrent to drugs. Qureshi will also meet with the IOC President and Afghanistan Tennis Federation President to plan a wheelchair tennis program.