Once again, the overall results of Nepal in major sports competition were abysmal. The recently concluded Asian Games proved the inadequacy of the whole sports sector in the country. It is high time to introspect.
It is a problem of leadership and system and a nation like Nepal with such big aspirations must do better. In a recent conversation with some friends, all Nepali and all sports lovers, there was an overwhelming feeling of frustration and disillusionment with the system. To them the whole sports sector in the country should be radically transformed and changed.
According to them, most of those in charge of the Nepal Olympic Committee and National Sports Council and other underperforming federations should simply do one thing. Resign!
It is hard not to find this argument quite convincing actually. In an op-ed for The Rising Nepal, Professor P Kharel, reflecting on the underwhelmingly scarce performance of Team Nepal, strongly asked for accountability. His arguments totally resonate with me and many others. At least the so-called sports leadership of the country should come forward and offer some explanations.
While mismanagement and lack of plans could be some of the main reasons for the overall trend, we also have to admit that it is difficult for a country like Nepal to channel more resources to the sports sector. With a myriad of priorities and with the overall national economy also declining, it is extremely challenging to allocate enough budget for it.
Yet there are several questions that must be fully answered: Are the scarce resources devoted for sports being used in the best way possible? What have been the plans and targets that were set for the Asian Games just concluded in Hangzhou, China? What were the expectations in terms of new national records and medals? Most importantly what should Nepal aim for the next big event, the Olympic Games in Paris next year and even most importantly what about Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032? Lastly, what should be changed in order to have better chances to win more medals in the next big competition?
First of all, I would love to ask these questions to Arika Gurung, the winner of the silver medal in the women’s karate 68 kg competition. What were the elements that made her reach the podium? Besides her talents, hard work and sacrifice, a presumably excellent coaching staff, what were the key factors that enable her to win silver medal? The same questions should be addressed by national Kabbadi female team that co-won the bronze and by any other present and past medals winners of this country.
Maybe the athletes should really take the lead and come up with an analysis and then also with a “way forward”. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal should also get into action and make this possible. There is no doubt that he should expect clear answers from those leading the sports sector about what just happened and about future plans.
Then, in what could become a fully holistic accountability process, the Prime Minister could set up a review commission led by some retired champions who, in the past, made the country proud at international levels. For example, Deepak Bista, the former karate champion, could be a candidate to co-lead this commission together with a female former athlete. I confess that I am struggling to find a name for the female position and this, unfortunately, reflects the discrepancies in the power gaps and imbalances between male and female in the sports sector.
What about Mira Rai, even though she is not retired? Maybe we could make the whole exercise fully transparent and inclusive. For example, the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers could announce a Call for Expressions of Interests where former athletes could apply to become members of the body that should have a fixed term and an expire date. What about giving it a life span of one year?
The Terms of Reference of such temporary and voluntary body should be focused on reviewing the existing system from all the sides and points: management, leadership, resources made available, coaching system, competitions. Moreover, why and how certain federations are better run than others and, therefore able to achieve better results?
What about the overall sector of sports education? When will the country have a sports university? What about the effectiveness of the curriculum of the recently established degrees in sports related subjects? What about the whole governance system? How can the Nepal Olympic Committee, the National Sports Council and the Ministry of Youth and Sports coordinate and work together better? How can Nepal have a strong coaching system? How can the country do a better job at forming new cadres of coaches at all levels? Importantly, what’s the role of the provincial governments and how can they support the overall national plans for the sector? What about the private sector, including private colleges who have been investing resources for their sports teams?
The Commission could create formal working groups involving past and current athletes, each of these focusing on some of the aspects of the sports industry. But reviewing the past and present should only be one part of the main responsibility of this Commission. I am saying so because it is extremely important to also think about the future, about what it is going to take to change the current system.
Now it is also paramount to make the proposed commission not only fully gender balanced but also inclusive of athletes with disabilities because adaptive sports in Nepal is strong despite the many challenges. Athletes living with disabilities should be, therefore, fully represented in the Commission. We could have one chair and two vice-chairs, of which one should represent adaptive sports and should be a person with disability. It might be possible that the existing leadership of the sports sector did everything in their power and capacities to prepare Team Nepal to the best of its potential and capacities. But like for politics, people who love sports are fed up with those running the show.
Again, these feelings are fully understandable but let’s also give a chance and hear from those now in a position of power about their work and their plans for the future. The Parliament can also start some formal inquiries and ask for accountability. But meanwhile, let the athletes come up with their analysis and review. Yet, most importantly, let’s create the conditions for the real champions of the nation to work independently and with the adequate resources to map out a blue print for the future of sports in Nepal.
One more thing: if it is too complex to have a “sanctioned’ commission, then all the athletes should find all the strengths, including moral and psychological, to organize themselves and show the nation the way.
Views are personal.