- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

LONDON Pakistani sports officials have threatened to ban a tennis player who partnered with an Israeli at the Wimbledon.
Aislam Ul-Haq Qureshi says he will defy any ban and continue to play with Amir Hadad.
Muslim-majority Pakistan has no diplomatic relations with Israel and frowns at any sports or cultural ties with the Jewish state.
"We officially condemn his playing with an Israeli player, and an explanation has been sought from him," Pakistani Sports Board Director Brig. Saulat Abbas told local newspapers.
But Qureshi said he will play more doubles matches with Hadad, even if he is expelled from the Pakistani national team.
"We're just here to play the game and enjoy it," he said Monday after he and Hadad lost a third-round match to a Czech pair. "Actually, I don't like to [mix] religion or politics into sports."
Thanks to his Israeli partner, he said, he achieved the best performance in a Grand Slam tournament by any Pakistani player. It was also the first time he made it into the main draw of 64 doubles teams.
Qureshi, from Lahore but living in the Netherlands, is the only Pakistani player who holds a world ranking.
Qureshi, a Muslim, said he would continue playing alongside Hadad even if he is banned from representing his country in the crucial upcoming Davis Cup international match against China.
"That's their own loss," said Qureshi, who played a key role in Pakistan's recent semifinal win over Taiwan in a Group II qualifying competition.
"If they want to stay in Group II or lower levels, fine. If I believe I could do well with Amir in the big events, Grand Slams, I'll stay and play with him. Why not?"
Hadad, a Jew, expressed delight at being a "beacon of hope" to two religious groups at loggerheads over the Middle East.
"We have fun together, and that's it. It doesn't matter where we come from. If something good can come of it, it's even better," he said at Monday's news conference.
Tennis officials noted that players do not represent their country as such in tournaments, so federations have no right to dictate who their players play with or against.
Qureshi said he was "a bit shocked" when he first heard of the criticism, but he was told by a reporter later that newspapers at home sympathized with him.
He also received support from Pakistani expatriates in the United States. The Pakistani American Association of Connecticut said in a statement that the Qureshi-Hadad partnership is "a very important and a positive activity."
"It is important for people to realize that we as humans have far more things common between us than our differences. Understanding and dialogue can always start with sports," association president M. Saud Anwar said.
With violence and suicide-bombing continuing in his home country, Hadad said he was watching the news daily with trepidation but "we [are] trying to stay positive all the time. Maybe it's going to be good in the future."
Asked if he would be prepared to play with a Palestinian player, Hadad said, "Not yet. Maybe in the future," noting that there is no Palestinian player on the world tennis circuit.


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