The trials and tribulations of Nepal’s only sports museum

The museum might have fallen from favor of late but its owner is anything but deterred. He has plans to upgrade the museum and go digital.

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: At the Nepal Olympic Museum, the country’s only sports museum, one is greeted by a bitter irony. For a place housing thousands of sports items and artifacts that open a trapdoor into the history of sports in Nepal, the museum is mostly quiet, desperately devoid of footfall. The museum swears its allegiance to the Olympic Movement, which aims to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced in accordance with Olympism and its values.”

Established in 1994, Nepal Olympic Museum began its operation regularly after it was set up in Dashrath Rangasala, in 1999. Prior to that, the founder and president of NOM, Chhittij Arun Shrestha, was involved in collecting the historical items for the museum. The museum has now shifted to Saatdobato.

Although the museum has several significant materials that hold great importance towards understanding Nepali sports, its history and present, very few people come to visit the museum, says Shrestha.

“Previously when we were in Dashrath Rangasala, there used to be good footfall,” he adds. “Around 20- 30 schools used to visit annually. But, in 2012, retrofitting was carried out in Dashrath Rangasala and we shifted here. After that things changed unexpectedly. Some days, not even a single person steps in.”

Shrestha believes that the Rangashala was a more favorable location for the museum. Another reason, Shrestha believes, behind the loss of the museum’s attraction is its small space. The museum has three rooms. The first one is the exhibition hall, the second the library, which includes 7 to 8 thousand reading materials, and lastly, an administration office. Shrestha claims that the library has almost all the books that are related to Nepali sports. As the space for the museum is inadequate, they have been able to display only 65 percent of material out of total collections.

The museum has a collection of sports items that are as many as 98 years old but it’s again the small space of the museum that has not allowed the operators to feature them all. Shrestha has kept some of them in his residence for security reasons. Currently, the oldest thing that is being displayed at the museum is a blazer that was worn by a representative from Nepal during the Asian Games of 1951.

Some other notable collections that are being displayed in the museum are the Bishnu Trophy of 1940, the trophy of the women’s football cup organized by ANFA in 1983, Madan Memorial Shield 1981-82, and a bicycle used by the first cyclist of Nepal, Sonam Sherpa.

The museum so far has collected 7,50,000 photographs. The oldest one is from 1968. They are related to King Tribhuvan and Rana Family. 

To put on display all it has by expanding its space, the museum has been putting its efforts continuously.

“Most probably it will again move back to the place where it all started, Dashrath Rangasala. But the head office will stay here,” said Shrestha. “Now only a few official things from the government side are left to complete the procedure of expansion.”

The museum is also going through a financial crisis. Previously, the government used to provide Nrs. 5,00,000 annually for the museum but for the last two years, they have curtailed the amount showing the cause of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the only major source of money for the museum is the Nepal Olympic Committee, which provides NRs 4,25,000 to the museum annually.

The museum has three staff at present. As a result of the financial crisis, the museum was compelled to reduce one of its staff. And similarly, the present staff are also working on a very low salary scale, according to Shrestha. 

“We have been demanding the concerned authority to address our financial issue frequently, but they are indifferent to us all the time,” Shrestha says.

Before the museum was founded, Shrestha was a photojournalist covering sports.

“While working as a photojournalist I used to go to various places to report and photograph sports goods,” he says. “There I realized that those goods should be well conserved and for it a museum should be established.”

As he started working to establish a museum, he had a problem managing the capital and collecting the necessary items for it. To overcome the financial issue, Shrestha wandered around a lot, he recalls, trying to meet concerned people who could help him.

One day, he waited for the then Sports Minister Saroj Singh Bhandari for a whole day in Dashrath Rangasala. After a long wait, he got a chance to meet with Bhandari and he managed to receive two hundred thousand from the ministry. With that money, the museum was set up overnight.   

It was also not as easy for Shrestha to collect the objects for the museum. People were reluctant to give him anything due to trust issues. Those who offered to provide the items did that under the condition that they be returned after some time. Shrestha is still looking for more items that could be conserved in the museum.

“There are many people here who still have a lot of sports-related historical objects but they do not consider giving them to us. I have approached them several times, but they do not listen,” said Shrestha. 

Now Shrestha wants to update the 27 years old museum. He is working on documenting and conserving the items digitally. He wants to digitize all of the collection through the official website of NOM. 

“We are working on digitizing all our collections. A few of the procedures have already been completed, and the remaining ones will be completed very soon,” Shrestha said. “We want to give access to our collections to people from not just Nepal but all around the world.”