Apsra Panchoo: “I’ve Had to Break Through Every Single Barrier to Make An Indelible Mark”

Apsra Panchoo recently won the KZNBA Provincial Women’s Championships for the 16th time and that’s just one of the innumerable achievements in a sport that many may consider a “pub sport” or just leisure to unwind with friends, Blackpool.

Chemical Engineer and Women’s Blackpool star Apsra Panchoo says she’s had to break through every single barrier of womanhood to fight her way to making an indelible mark on her corner of the globe.

Panchoo is Africa’s 1st ever Women’s World Champion Blackball Pool from 2008 to 2022, reigning as the longest standing title holder for Africa.

Panchoo won all 6 out of 6 World Championship titles in a single World Championships at the 2008 World Champs Event, a standing record to date.

She is also a qualified Referee and Level 3 Coach for all Cue Sports.

Interestingly her son, Neo Panchoo, embraced the same sport at the tender age of 10, qualifying to represent KZN in 2017 at the South African Blackball Championships in Secunda, winning his first national award.

It is safe to say that Panchoo ran the race so that many after her can walk, including 18 year old Erin Lazarus, who is a KZN Pro Snooker player.

gsport’s Lonwabo Nkohla had a chat with the inspirational Panchoo.

 

For a woman with so many accolades and achievements, there are some South Africans who may not know the name Apsra Panchoo, how would you introduce yourself to the world?

My name is Apsra “World Champ” Panchoo, blessed to be the daughter of Indurjeeth and Maya Panchoo, proud mum of the youngest internationally qualified Cue Sport referee in Africa, Neo J Pancho. I’m a Chemical Engineer, Business Manager and Life Coach.

Most people know it as pub entertainment and here you are at level ‘one of the best in the world’. What attracted you to Pool given the perceived twofold “conservativeness”: Indian and a woman?  

When I first started playing the sport and my then colleague and coach, Sanjeev “Troy” Debipersadh insisted that I join the league in KZN back in 1999, but as a female the guys in leadership back then refused that I play in any existing team, so Troy created his own home pub team at Shooters in Isipingo under the banner of Isipingo and Districts Pool Association, and we went on to win the league that year.

My parents were taken to my very first match for them to see the environment and people I was going to be spending my evenings with and hesitantly (for safety reasons) they embraced my inclusion in a male dominated pub sport at that time.

My parents never expecting me to even remotely excel at any level let alone winning so many world titles.

The world was not ready for Indian or any “decent” women to be embraced with dignity when they walked into a pub or pool hall, yet all I did was carried myself with the utmost dignity and respect that allowed for a new breed of soldier to trespass on this previously male dominated territory.

As best as you can, could you describe the sport during a competition – from audiences, to attire.

The sport is very proudly professional in its official championships attire being strictly formal pants with collared shirt and formal shoes, that renders the perception that it is mere pub sport untrue, yet it is played in the very pubs that have been in existence for decades.

What have been some of the challenges of being involved in an unconventional sport, also a sport (as many are) that is still male-dominated?

Cue Sport is moving away from being a mere Cinderella sport as what it was when I started playing professionally 23yrs ago. Being previously mainly regarded as a mere pub sport created an unsavoury taint of everyone. Associating them with just alcohol and smoking, which was not entirely the case, but admittedly, there was an excessive majority that used to primarily show up for such vices or socialising in their preferred choice of company.

As the sport evolved, we registered the Blackball Pool entity as an IOC member, it was a leap into the soon-to-be professional platform for a sport that is played by the most number of people globally, sadly behind doors of pubs, taverns, entertainment venues and even homes.

Today we can boast that the sport is growing exponentially, to global levels.

Male domination is unfortunately in every field of life, a reality that all women face each and every day in life whether the men are dominant in character or an undertone in all facets of life that we are forced to politely deal with in tactful ways to avoid being branded or removed from provincial or national portfolios by egos that still prevail from pre-democracy eras.

I am however proud to say that there are men out there who are fully supportive of our female athletes, administrators and professionals in every industry and sport.

Today women are more than equally embraced as true candidates to contest the status quo.

What does it take to be number 1 in this exciting sport?

I was groomed from childhood to challenge boys in school when I played in the school soccer and cricket teams and when I grew up I did the same in life and work.

On the playground I have always challenged people to always have the highest standards. My motto has always been to stay focussed as that’s all one needs to do in order to achieve whatever it is one wants.

The best part is that it means that the number of women are increasing annually and the skills are elevating, putting me on my toes even more to remember what I have in my kitty of tricks to rise like a phoenix when called upon to do so for my club, province and country.

Of all the milestones in your impressive career, which are most important to you? 

I have achieved everything there is to achieve internationally in the sport and continue to challenge, ever my male counterparts.

My father taught me foresight and the skills and abilities to think ahead and think of the multitude of possibilities that we could face with each decisions we make in life. That is what has been my superpower all my life and foremost highlight.

Talk to us about the level of interest in Blackpool in the country, how popular is it? 

There are 100s and thousands of pool tables in pubs, taverns, schools, halls, homes, canteens, entertainment areas, malls, etc. making the sport the most widely played sport perhaps in the world, as was announced at the latest World Championships in Morocco, with the figure exceeding 300 million athletes globally.

Every child loves to play the game and the idea is to take the pool tables out of the shops next to the school, where some kids bunk school to hang out at, and put those tables into the school as an extra-curricular activity for them to play.

I am launching my Coaching and Refereeing Academy which will attract even greater interest when I share it publicly.

You’ve paved the way for many who would want to take up the sport and carve their own successful journey, are you able to tell us about the impact you’ve made on specific individuals?

The first person who I have to quote is Nicola Rossouw who was 12 time SA Champion after overcoming a childhood drug addiction.

Nicola was a teenager when she saw me on TV and told her parents that she would one day be like and challenge me (pointing to me on TV playing the finals of the SA CHAMPS in the early 2000s). Her father then had told her that she was a mere junky and would never be like me. She made it her life’s purpose to prove her father wrong and took to cue Sport with the determination and drive to want to get to one day meet me and take me out of the competition.

What role can we as the media play to popularise Blackpool? 

The media has diligently followed my story over the decades, to the point where I was labelled as the “Queen of the Cue” by the Sunday Tribune, FHM magazine’s 8th Hottest Date in SA for academic, entertainment and sport skills, Cosmopolitan’s Awesome Women of the Year In SA,  SABC2 / Shoprite Women of the Year Sport Finalist 2002, The KZN Premier’s top 5 athletes of Indian descent for 160yrs of Indians in SA,  to name but a few publications and awards.

Sport is known for sharpening one’s resilience and tenacity, how have you applied those two traits outside of sport, for example, we read that you were affected by the unfortunate KZN floods earlier this year.

After losing our entire home and everything in it to the floods, we gathered ourselves and 6months later I found myself in the finals of the World Championships in Morocco, winning the 14th International Title and 4th SA Women’s Team Gold Medal World Championships Title for the country. Life is simple: “pick up and move forward all the time”.

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