Who would’ve imagined that paragliding would save Nepal from coming home empty-handed from the Asian games. As the 18th Asian Games concluded in Jakarta on September 2, Team Nepal returned home with a silver medal, it’s second-ever in the history of the Asian Games and its best achievement so far.
Except for 1954 in the Philippines and 1962 in Indonesia, Nepal has been participating in Asiad since its inception in India in 1951. Despite this long participation history, Nepal has only won a total of 23 medals, with just one other silver, won by taekwondo player Sabitra Raj Bhandari at the 1998 Asiad in Bangkok. Nepal had won medals in only three disciplines—14 for taekwondo, six for boxing and three for karate—before paragliding, introduced for the first time at the Asian games, beckoned.
While felicitations are in order, Nepal must remain circumspect about its place in the Asian sporting arena. Boasts like those made by Nepal Sports Council member secretary Keshav Kumar Bista are unhelpful and can be embarrassing. Before even departing for Jakarta, Bista had claimed that Nepal would return with the best results ever. Such assertions can help boost morale but more often than not, they can seem incognizant of Nepal’s shortcomings. Consider the fact that China led the medal tally this year with 132 golds, 92 silvers and 65 bronzes and that India, South Asia’s sporting powerhouse, was in eighth place, with 15 golds, 24 silver and 30 bronzes. Nepal’s best showing has a total haul of eight bronze medals at the 1986 Seoul Games.
Given Nepal’s poor history in sports, expectations must be tempered, especially when going up against the sporting giants like China, Japan and South Korea. China invests millions in grooming its players with the best infrastructure and training; Nepal struggles to even manage the participation costs, let alone long term investments in its athletes.
Given its financial limitations, Nepal must be smart about its investments. Team Nepal at the Jakarta Games consisted of 187 athletes competing in 29 disciplines, inviting criticism for its large size. Such criticism is often knee-jerk as international exposure for athletes at the highest level is always beneficial, regardless of outcome. However, care must be taken by authorities such as the National Sports Council and the Nepal Olympic Committee to build on such experiences. And this requires Nepal to be astute about its investment in athletes and sports infrastructure.
In order for Nepal to shine on the international stage, it is imperative that the authorities identify certain disciplines where Nepali athletes stand a better chance and then begin to groom sportspeople to compete at the next edition in four years time. Nepal must play to its strengths, not field a great number of athletes and hope that some of them stick.