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Tapping the potential of Nepal’s para-athletes

Tapping the potential of Nepal’s para-athletes

It is a good thing that the Ministry of Youth and Sports is formulating a new policy to bring national sports to the next levels. There is a lot of work to be done but asking for feedback, advice from the general population is certainly a great way to start.

A key way to elevate Nepal’s sports is to formulate a program for high potential achievers, an initiative that strategically identifies and supports athletes who have a real chance to compete at highest levels. I am talking about athletes whose performance is already very promising, athletes who have already shown their worth.

It is obviously essential to ensure that such a program is capable of selecting the most promising athletes when they are still very young rather than when they are already mature. Nepal could learn a few things from Australia, which has a very rigorous and holistic process of grooming the best potential competitors. It is not surprising for Australia that their athletes are among the best and Australia always stands very high for the medals won.

Something that perhaps might be discounted is that Australia has been investing a lot also in its adaptive sports athletes or para-athletes and they are among the best worldwide.

I am writing about this because Nepal also has dynamic para-athletes, who deserve a much higher level of recognition. This is the reason why the new policy being formulated should give equal chances to parasports to excel and compete in the region and worldwide. It is not just about equality and social justice. It is really about competition and giving a level playing field to athletes living with disabilities.

Nepal’s taekwondo is probably, at the moment, the most recognized para sport.

This is thanks to Palesha Goverdhan winning a bronze medal in the 2022 Asian Para Games in China and recently she was awarded the ‘Best Taekwondo Practitioner of the Year’. She is also going to represent Nepal at the upcoming Paralympics games in Paris. We should not forget that Shrijana Ghising has also been doing very well internationally with Para taekwondo.

Then there is also wheelchair basketball. It is very positive that Minister for Youth and Sports Biraj Bhakta Shrestha recently attended a two-day Intervalley Wheelchair basketball tournament organized by Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association (NSCISA), one of the pioneering organizations promoting adaptive sports in the country.

At the moment of writing, Nepal has the chance of having another top para-athlete competing in Paris, Keshav Thapa, the most successful para-table tennis athlete of the country.

I personally know Thapa for many years as he is also very active in the social sector, being a strong advocate for accessibility and for the rights of persons with disabilities and he is the founder of the Spinal Cord Injury Network Nepal (SCINN).

SCINN provides a family environment, including lodging and food to more than 20 youths living with spinal injury, many of whom are also wheelchair basketball players with the SCINN Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Thapa, who, according to the International Table Tennis Federation-Para Table Tennis (ITTF PTT)’s classification, currently is ranking at number 88 but he has a huge potential to raise the world ranking even further.

He is trying to find the resources to attend the Paralympic World Qualification Tournament, which is going to be held in Pattaya, Thailand from the 23rd of this month to till 26th.

This is the only way for him to be in Paris.

I am really wondering if the high potential program for promising athletes of the country were in place, where Keshav would be standing in the world ranking.

I am sure he could, confidently, be among the top 15-20 and certainly the best in South Asia and among the strongest competitors to the Chinese peers who have been dominating table tennis ever since.

What struck my interest in the work of Thapa is the fact that he is also very concerned with the whole development of the para-sector in Nepal.

It is outrageous that the country still has two different Paralympics Committees, one working with the government and the other with the International Paralympics Committee. I sincerely hope that Minister Shrestha uses his powers to solve this ridiculous conundrum.

It is a ridiculous situation because athletes like Thapa are slowed down, unsupported and mostly on their own to achieve the great things they aim for.

I recently had a chat with Thapa. We talked about his goals and aspirations but also about his concerns about para-sports in Nepal.

“Well, about my goals I have a dream to be a Paralympian and want to win an international medal for my nation. If I get a chance to participate in various competitions and have good training and exposure I trust myself that I can win an international medal. Ultimately, my goal is to be a Paralympian and I really want to work in the disability community.”

Despite being very focused to succeed in Thailand and then in Paris, Thapa really wants the whole para-sports to grow in the country.

“My priority will be on para sports development. Para sports have been helping me to make my life better such as mentally strong, physically fit and name and fame in the community”.

He further explained to me, “I feel proud that I am eligible to participate in Paralympic world qualification. It’s one great achievement in my life. I wish I can be a role model in the para sports sector and in this way, many other young fellows may inspire and be involved in the sports”.

I asked him what could be done to reverse the status quo.

“Overall, for promoting adaptive sports there should be encouragement and direct investment of government to para-athletes. There should be regular training, training equipment, expert manpower such as coach, disability-friendly playing grounds, financial support, chances to participate in national and international competition, and there should be salary for players so that adoptive sports can be boosted.”

I do not only hope that Thapa will qualify for Paris but also he will find the resources to be able to compete full time without being always overstressed about fundraising.

Big corporate houses have a big role to play.

This would be smart CSR, something that can truly make a difference while also elevating their corporate profiles.

I feel sorry that there are so many great athletes with disabilities in the country who are unable to shine. They are blocked, incapable of showing the nation and the whole world what they can do.

I truly hope that the new policy that Minister Shrestha is formulating will try to address this huge gap.

Para-taekwondo, para table tennis, wheelchair basketball, para-swimming, blind cricket are some of the disciplines where Nepal can show its brilliance and greatness while showcasing to the world its difficult but worthy journey toward inclusion and accessibility.

Views are personal