When Nepal hosted the inaugural South Asian Games (SAG) in 1984, it finished fourth in the medal table, winning 24 medals, four of them gold. The next time it hosted the event, in 1999, it finished second, with a tally of 65 medals, including 31 golds. Come 2019, Nepal again came second, bagging a whopping 206 medals, including 51 golds. The 2019 achievements are astonishing, even considering that host countries generally do well in international sporting events. Nothing gets an athlete going more than raucous home support.
Even so, 51 golds are no joke. Our athletes were trained well for the biennial event. The National Sports Council, the national sports governing body that is more often in the news for the wrong reasons, deserves credit this time, both for training the Nepali contingent well and for successfully pulling off the gargantuan task of hosting and managing over 2,700 international athletes. No doubt there were some management glitches, including with crowd management; but the 13th SAG will by and large be counted among the more successful regional games.
But now that the dust from the games is settling, it is time for some realism. Nepal has never won a single gold at the Asian Games, and just two silvers. At the Olympics, the biggest stage of them all, the country has won nothing in the six decades of its participation. This is an indictment of the sporting culture of not just Nepal but of South Asia as a whole. India, the regional sporting behemoth and the country that will soon have the largest population in the world, has won only 28 medals (nine golds) at the Olympics in nearly a century of its participation. Traditionally, South Asian folks have not been very sporty, for all sorts of reasons—except in cricket, which inspires zealous passion here, particularly among arch-rivals India and Pakistan.
Yet that is changing. Just look at the swagger and fitness of Nepali cricketers these days. Sandeep Lamichhane and Paras Khadka are world-class sportsmen. The quadruple gold medalist Gaurika Singh seems peerless in the pool. Nepali footballers, who won the SAG final against Bhutan, played (and acted) like real champions, truly deserving of their success rather than merely getting lucky. Now it is up to our sports administrators to carefully nurture these young talents and nudge them to even greater heights in international sports. Good athletes should also be financially supported. If that happens, parents will want their children to grow up to be professional athletes—the only genuine way Nepali sports will progress.