Sporting blues

  • Nepal has the opportunity to move away from sporting cartels in the garb of associations to lucrative partnerships
- Sujeev Shakya

Mar 13, 2018-

Thirty years ago, on March 12 1988, at a game of football that was being held between Janakpur Cigarette Factory and Liberation Army, Bangladesh at the Dasarath Stadium, all hell broke loose as a hail storm sent people fleeing. Instead of helping the people in the stadium get out safely, the police resorted to baton charging. There was a stampede. Ninety-three people lost their lives, hundreds more were injured. The disaster is listed as one of the worst disasters in a football stadium in the world. I was reading my own notes after that human induced massacre--I had jotted down many questions. What country did I belong to? Is this the country I want to live in? Is this the relationship between the state and the citizen? What is the value of a human being? What sort of politicians rule this country? Is this how the kings want their subjects to be treated? My jottings that day included more questions than answers. 

Constant is the only change 

Thirty years later, I reflect on that event. That event led to the resignation of Kamal Thapa, who was the head of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA). His brother Ganesh Thapa is still embroiled in the politics of football associations 30 years later. The stadium is not much different from what it was 30 years ago. The politics of the football associations remain the same. If members of the royal family or people close to the royal family controlled the politics of the sports associations in the earlier days, it is now the politicians who control it now. There are many faces that were associated with sports association leadership 30 years ago who are still appearing on the sports pages of newspapers. Sports journalism has not changed much despite so many private media players, as the events around associations find more prominence than the sport itself. The news reports on association politics has not changed much in 30 years either. 

The politics of sports bodies resulting in financial fiefdom is not only limited to Nepal. Earlier, when foreign travel was rare, it became the norm for the influential to attend sports events the world over even if they knew nothing about the sport. Stories of people who attended the Asian Games because they were political folks close to the royals during the monarchy, and close to the political parties after the advent of democracy are not rare. The match fixing scandal involving football players and the suspension of the Cricket Association of Nepal speaks volumes of the intentions behind playing the game. 

Nepali sports and the political leadership did not care if Nepal did not win medals. The general excuse was that if our next door neighbour, India, with a billion people cannot win medals, how can Nepal. They never looked north as to how China managed to excel and gain prominence in the global sports arena. The hunger for wins was absent as the participation of the people was more important than winning. Exemplary sports talent lost out to nepotism.

Unleashing sport talent

In Nepal, people who did not get good jobs or those who had to work with rent-seeking labour union folks left for greener pastures, leading to large scale migration and a remittance economy. People wanting to work in the financial sector found it more meaningful to compete for jobs in the US rather than to work for traders-turned-bankers who believed in conducting banking through cartels. People in the IT sector found greener pastures in the Silicon valleys of the US and India. 

Sandeep Lamichhane, with his selection for the Delhi Daredevil franchise heralds a new era for Nepali sportspeople as they will compete with global talent and create a niche for themselves. With major investment in global sports media and viewership expanding through personal devices like smartphones, careers in sports will become very lucrative. The world has opened up for Nepali sportspeople and in a few years we will see a surge of Nepalis playing in cricket teams around the world and football teams in Malaysia, China or Singapore. With adventure sports and extreme athletics becoming popular, we will see Nepali names making a good fortune for themselves and creating proud moments for Nepal. 

The emergence of private sports fixtures is heartening. The Buddha Subba Gold Cup in Dharan has the opportunity to move to the next level in football, and the Dhangadhi cricket league will become a money spinner in the near future. 

The success of the English Premier League in football and the Indian Premier League in cricket in the past two decades have shown how the world of commerce, sponsorship, franchise models and broadcast rights creates billion dollar businesses. Nepal has the opportunity to move away from sporting cartels in the garb of associations to financially lucrative partnerships that can involve the recently created local governments, entrepreneurs and successful global entities. 

A fitting tribute to those fans who died in the Dasarath Stadium tragedy will be to convert the languishing Mahendranagar airport to a sports complex with a world class academy and stadium. At the entrance of this complex, we can etch the names of the people who died in the tragedy. Bhimdutta Municipality folks—volunteer to make this a reality!

Published: 13-03-2018 07:56

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