Altogether 186 Nepali sportsters are representing the country in 29 different sports at the ongoing Asian Games in Indonesia. While many national records
have been broken, Nepal has won only a paltry silver thus far. This is not to undermine the heroic achievement of the Nepali paragliders who bagged the country’s second silver, ever, at the Asiad. (Nepal’s only other silver medal came in Bangkok 1998, when Sabita Rajbhandari came second in taekwondo.). There is much room for improvement.
A quick question: How many sports do Nepalis play professionally? Cricket, football, taekwondo, karate, boxing, athletics… maybe a few more. But an astounding 207 sports associations are registered with the National Sports Council. Around 45 of them are for karate only. The council’s official website lists an association related to ice-hockey, even though there are no active ice-hockey players in Nepal.
Then there is the Nepal Zurkhaneh Sports Association which handles Iranian wrestling (again, zero players). There is also a Footvolley association and another equally obscure one for ‘Sepak takraw’ (an Indonesian sport). Moreover, the phone numbers of their ‘officials’ are mostly unavailable on the website, although this is a mandatory requirement. Even the few numbers that are listed are either switched off or unreachable.
“There is a curling association here. Do they even know what curling is? Where is the infrastructure to practice curling?” asks Dipesh Ghaley, a sports promoter and executive president of the Himalayan Outdoor Festival Pvt Ltd. (Curling is a European sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice towards a target area.)
“Sports is related to the youth and youth means strength. This is why political parties create these fake associations to enlist youths,” Ghaley says. He feels Nepali sports will progress only when these fake associations are shut and professional, non-political sportspersons are appointed to oversee the ones.
Among the better-established organizations are the Nepal Amateur Athletics Association, the Cricket Association of Nepal, the Nepal Badminton Association, the Nepal Boxing Association, the All Nepal Football Association and the Nepal Lawn Tennis Association. All these deal with sports that have a good number of players. “The rest are there to swindle the state and create holiday opportunities for the so called officials and their families,” says a veteran sports photojournalist on the condition of anonymity because he does not want the associations to bar him from taking photos. “There is a big racket in Nepali sports, a racket that enjoys government protection.”
The photojournalist says many responsible government officials are not even aware of how many sports are played in the country or how many of the (real or fake) associations are in existence. “These associations are nothing but cartels for paid vacations for those in power and sometimes even for human traffickers,” he adds.
According to the Sports Development Department under the Ministry of Sports, the sports associations need to be affiliated with international federations of respective sports and have to meet certain criteria to be eligible for registration with the council. They need to provide regular training to the players and conduct periodic tournaments and other related programs nationwide. These provisions are being openly flouted.
Yet the department claims it is doing all it can. “We have recently cancelled the registrations of 25 associations which failed to meet our requirements,” says Kul Bahadur Thapa, the department chief. “We have also issued warnings to more associations and will be strictly monitoring their activities in the coming days.”
With Nepal having won just 24 medals in the seven decades of its participation at the Asiad, the country’s record at the Olympics is predictably much worse. Nepal’s only Olympic medal, a bronze, came by the way of Bidhan Lama at Seoul 1988. (But since taekwondo was only an exhibition game at the event, the bronze was not recognized.) Otherwise, in the 13 editions of the Summer Olympics Nepal has taken part in, there has not been a single medal. What is worse is that Nepali athletes have not won a single match at the Olympics, with the sole exception of Bishnu Bahadur Singh who triumphed in a boxing bout in Seoul 1988.
As former professional boxer Kiran Thapa puts it, things are unlikely to improve unless the perverted incentives of those running Nepali sports change. Right now, the first criterion to be eligible to run these associations is to be a card-carrying member of a political party. The same rule applies for selection of coaches. “Seldom is merit alone enough,” he rues. (See Expert view below)
Right now the state of Nepali sports is as pathetic as the premises of the Dashrath Stadium, with its overflowing toilets and moss-encrusted rooms, that many of the sports associations, both real and fake, call home.
Keep politics away from sports
I am one of the only two International Boxing Association three-star certified coaches in Nepal and yet I have not gotten an opportunity to coach the national boxing team. This is because there is so much bureaucracy, nepotism and favoritism in Nepali boxing. This is in fact the problem with all the sports played in Nepal. You should either be affiliated to political parties or be loyal to the people running the different sports associations. Seldom is merit alone enough.
Even after being selected as the national coach for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, I could not go because of the politics in the Nepal Boxing Association. I have been training boxers for almost two decades. I have been with the AFP for 15 years and produced professional players who have represented the country abroad. But Nepal never does win medals in international boxing because we lack professionalism and infrastructure.
The goal should be to win medals, not just to come back with ‘experience’ or to break national records. Boxing is one of the oldest sports in Nepal and yet we don’t win. I have produced professional boxers even from a private fitness club. So you can do it. In order to produce athletes who can win at the international level, we should keep politics away from sports and focus on getting the best coaches for all the sports.
A gold medalist or an excellent player might not be the best coach. I think all the associations and the National Sports Council need to understand that. Get trainers who actually know how to train athletes instead of giving coaching opportunities to retired players you like. I believe our sports infrastructure is also sub-par and there is no proper coaching-learning mechanism. It’s all ad hoc now.
(The author is former professional boxer and current head coach of the Armed Police Force Boxing Team)