Changing Saudi Arabia: Dipika, Joshna recall memorable stay
By Bharat Sharma
New Delhi, Jan 11 (PTI) Not in even her wildest dreams, India's leading squash player Dipika Pallikal imagined that she would visit Saudi Arabia one day but there she was in Riyadh for five days, competing in the first women's PSA event in the kingdom state.
Pallikal had the company of her longtime India teammate Joshna Chinappa in the USD 165,000 World Series event that concludes Friday.
They did not know what to expect before they landed there but have come back home with fond memories.
"I never thought I would go there but it indeed was a memorable experience. I did not get the time to venture out but the stay was very comfortable and the hospitality was great," Pallikal, who did well to reach the quarterfinals, told PTI after her return yesterday night.
Chinappa, India's highest-ranked player at 14, too had a good time.
"An amazing experience here in Riyadh. Top class hospitality and event! Thank you @zalturki and @rbalsaud for all your efforts in making this happen!" she tweeted.
The tournament is taking a place at a time when the country is attempting a shift from conservative to moderate under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a series of reforms, Saudi Arabia has allowed women to drive, watch football games and is also set to lift a 35-year ban on cinemas.
Ziad Al Turki, who is a Saudi and happens to be the chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA), played a big role in brining the event to country alongside Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the first female head of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports.
The cream of women's squash, including the world number one Nour El Sherbini, gathered in the kingdom state for a tournament that was not just about squash.
On court too, it was not business as usual for the players, who were told not to wear sleeveless t-shirts and the men were not allowed to watch them play.
"It was not the usual tournament experience but to be honest, when you are on court, you don't care about anything else," said Pallikal.
"We were advised against wearing sleeveless T-shirts but it was not much of an issue. One should respect the tradition and culture of the country you are in.
"I did not venture out but the other girls did and had a good time. Overall, I would say it was the important to have a successful event and is definitely a step in the right direction," added the 20th-ranked Indian who upset world number 10 Alison Waters en route to the quarters.
While Pallikal lost to top seed Sherbini in the last eight, Chinappa went down against fifth seed Nicol David in the first tournament of 2018