The news of Fathoum Issadeen, Sri Lanka’s three-time national Squash champion, being cut off from representing Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022, sent most of us into a frenzy.

The injustice that befell this incredibly gifted athlete who even broke into Top 250 in the World Squash Rankings recently, was called out by many. Teen Inc recently got in touch with Fathoum to share with our readers about her dedicated journey and how she overcame struggles. 

The 24-year-old, is the first ever hijabi athlete of the country. She reached her highest career singles ranking of 208 in April 2016 and also was crowned Women’s Squash National Champion in Sri Lanka in the year 2019. At present, she’s in her second year of her Education and Training Management degree. 

Setting off

She traces the beginning of her interest in squash to her five older brothers, especially the oldest. When she was five years old, Fathoum would observe her brothers play squash. Eventually, she would jump onto the court, grab their rackets, and play with them and hit the ball whenever she could, “all while the rackets were taller and bigger than me,” she jokes.

She played tennis as well as squash for Sri Lanka during her junior years, representing Sri Lanka and winning the silver medal at both the Asian Individual Championships and the World Junior Tennis Tournament. She continued playing tennis until she was 16, since she needed to concentrate on one thing and make sure she put her all to it. Given her upbringing, she thought squash would be the perfect choice.

Fathoum studied in Holy Family Convent from Montessori to higher education, which she considers to be a blessing. She never experienced discouragement thanks to the principal, the teachers, and the incredible group of classmates she refers to as the “hype girls,” who have always had her back and made sure to boost her confidence whenever things were tough.

Her main driving force was to promote Sri Lanka and ensure that her country was associated with positive experiences and pleasant memories. “If you win a match and are representing your country, it’s like a pleasant name to have, and I never wanted to stop until I got all the medals I could during my career,” she said.

Fathoum was just 12 years old when she made her international debut. Winning the Nationals in 2019, she says was the most unforgettable moment in her squash journey, “because I have been praying for years to achieve my first National title.”

While still celebrating her National ranking, she was able to acquire a place in the world ranking this year, making the celebration twofold, “we get our monthly updates on our ranks. July, this year, when I got the updates, I was ranked 246, meaning I made it into the top 250 in the world. I was so happy, and it meant alot to me because it was during the selections of the Common Wealth Games. It was definitely a big dream come true.”

Why Squash?

Fathoum is certain that squash is the highest fat burning sport. She explains, she selected squash over other sports because she likes to think quickly and make snap decisions. “Due to my family’s sporting history, squash has always been readily available to me.  One of the other reasons I enjoy squash is because it is played indoors. Air conditioners have occasionally been accessible, which makes things simpler.”

Continuous practice and training made her question herself as to why she does so much of a hard work. There were even times when she felt discouraged but she knew she had the answer. Every time she felt demotivated, she reminded herself that she’s got a duty to bring a medal to this country, “then immediately, I get this amazing sense of feeling to get up and practice harder.”

Awards and recognitions

Fathoum has enjoyed a lot of success over the years, from winning the school squash championship in 2009 to earning the National Rank Number 1. For her contributions to national sports, she received the ‘Recipient of the Uththama Kantha Award’ from the former First Lady of Sri Lanka. Particularly noteworthy is the Bronze Medal she won for Sri Lanka at the South Asian Games 2019. She is now serving as the captain of the women’s National team. She has been able to hold onto her National Rank No. 1 since 2019 until the present. Fathoum is also the National Colours Holder for both Squash and Tennis.

Cut off from CWG

Doesn’t it seem unfair to remove her name from the Commonwealth Games after all of her great accomplishments and contributions to the nation when we are all aware of how well-deserving she is of that position? There is little doubt that many of the talented athletes were treated unfairly.

When asked about how she felt about being excluded from the CWG, she shares, “It feels terrible because I’ve been practicing days and nights to get to this position and represent Sri Lanka. Especially in the Commonwealth Games because it was something for which I trained my whole life. I wanted to do something for the country in the CWG. Eight years ago, I was selected because I was ranked Number 4 by then.

They told me only two will be representing the country, but eventually sent three girls and three boys. Again, four years ago, I was ranked Number 2 in the country, and still my name was cut off. This time as well, although I’m ranked Number 1 in the country. It is sad because the reasons were unfair, I did ask them for some time because I was facing a critical injury. I also told them to consider my world ranking, but, unfortunately, it’s gone now. I’ll have to wait for another four years. And that we can’t even be sure of since that’s a long way off. I feel like one of my biggest dreams has been crushed. But I believe God has a massive thing coming, so, I’m eagerly waiting for it.”

Message to the readers

“When you love something, you will be get tested most with that thing. It’s not going to be an easy journey. Be it education wise, or sports, or anything in life, it will be so hard. There will come a time when you’ll say, ‘I’m going to quit, it’s enough.’ Remember, when you want something, it’ll be so tough. But once you achieve it, you will be someone’s guidance. So what I’d always say is, hang in there! Keep going, don’t stop and be very patient. Because I believe good things come to those who are patient.”

By Khalidha Naushad