By Bibek Sharma
Sports is quite popular in Nepal especially among students. When I was a high school student living in a hostel in the Capital City, we would get up at 2 o’clock in the morning to watch football whether it be the Champions League, the World Cup, European Championship or any other tournaments. It was a way to keep myself occupied to avoid boredom. I also remember sneaking in an old radio in my dorms and listening to the commentary of English Premier League games late at night. Those were the days. My friends who were the members of the school football or basketball teams would do anything to participate in any sort of inter-school tournaments or even in the friendly matches because they had the zeal to compete and win. That kind of passion is the exact kind what a professional would show when s/he is on the field and I wondered what the difference between my friends and other professionals was.
As years passed by, I left Nepal for the United States and observed something that would have turned my friends’ passion into a career, possibly. America is a lot different to Nepal in terms of almost everything but passion is something that is organic and comes out of human beings naturally. That passion, if treated properly, can be turned into talent and later that talent can be shaped into the profession. Now, in the US, they have a really good system of nurturing talents compared to ours’. High school sports in the US is really popular and if you are good at it and then a scholarship might be waiting for you in college. In Nepal, school sport tournaments are popular whether it be football (soccer), basketball, swimming, badminton or any other but once you are out of school and go to college (+2 or A levels) then it becomes tough to pursue that talent unless you really have a perspective of what you are going to do, which a lot of them don’t.
See, that is where the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) for the USA come in. It is an organization which regulates student athletes for every college or university. NCAA offers many sporting events throughout the calendar year where its member universities participate to find out the best school. This is seen as the gateway from amateur to the professional. Many of the American footballers you see playing in the NFL are recruited from universities as with baseball, basketball, track and field and even football (soccer). However, for Nepal, here is no such avenue. Or, is there? Let’s find out shall we?
NCAA VS USAN (University Sports Association of Nepal)
Although the comparison between the two is way off because NCAA is an already established organization which looks after the best athletes of the best universities in the USA and possibly the world. Meanwhile, USAN is an unheard organization that even I didn’t know existed until about a week ago. The reason I am comparing the two is that both of them have the same objectives but the way they are run is head and toes different from each other.
The main objective of these organizations is to provide opportunities to student athletes and help them the best way that they can, although the NCAA is already an established juggernaut and has probably more things to worry about that providing opportunities because they have been doing it since 1910.
What I am saying is that USAN can only learn from the NCAA on how they structure themselves and how they run their programs. The men’s basketball tournament is one of the most viewed programs in TV in the US and they help generate 80% of the revenue that the NCAA makes. The only news about the USAN that I know of is that they helped in conducting the first ever Inter-College T-20 cricket tournament in 2013 which featured four of the five major universities in Nepal.
Comparison between the two is like comparing diamonds with coals and I am not being harsh as it is the truth. What I am saying is they must pick up the basic principles from the NCAA. The main reason why the NCAA was established was that there were too many injuries and even deaths from playing college football and then President Theodore Roosevelt wanted reforms in college football so they got together with various universities and formed the NCAA. So, USAN take notice because there are a lots of problems in sports in our country such as there are no proper professional leagues in any sport nor the pay is good, infrastructure is out of sorts and mainly there is no competition between colleges. Wake up USAN, Wake up!
National Sports Council and the International Sports University Federation
The other thing is USAN is part of the National Sports Council (NSC), which is the main regulatory body of sports in Nepal and they must report everything to the NSC. However, USAN is also a part of the International Sports University Federation since 2009 and they should be taking advantage of this. Participating in international tournaments ensures more exposure for athletes which help them get better. But, we do not have a consistent range of tournaments being held as distractions such as protests, political instability and infrastructure get in the way of it.
USAN should be working with NSC to plan out something because this is an idea which can help the country move forward. Putting sports in university, first of all will encourage students to go into these universities because they want to play. This can also reduce the diaspora of students, who go out of the country to get education because Nepal is very limited in its education.
So now, when you implement competitive sports into your university then it will attract students ultimately ensuring more enrollment as well put pressure on these colleges to improve their standard of education.
NSC and USAN should be working together with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports to come up with a calendar that helps colleges and university compete with each other by not affecting the academics of their students. In this way, there can be progress made in both education and sports. However, it is easier said than done and with the current situation of the country it is hard to see this come into fruition.
Popularity of Inter School Tournaments and Recent Success of National Teams
Inter-school tournaments were very exciting when I was in my school days. Even though I was not part of the school team, it was thrilling to see my school take on other schools hoping that we would always triumph. Football tournaments such as the IGP Cup which is held by the Nepal Police School in Kavre is one of the prestigious tournaments in the country. Another football tournament was the Coca Cola Cup, which was organized by the All Nepal Football Association looking to find the best schooling talents in the country and it was the only tournament which ran throughout the country. These sort of tournaments are very important because they lay the foundation for students for the future. However, as they carry on their academics and make the transition to college and university, sports are not even a priority anymore.
As we have seen in recent times, Nepal has really done well in football, cricket as well as basketball. Two back to back international titles in football as well as participating in T-20 World Cup in 2014 has revived the passion of the fans in supporting the country when times were tough. Sports can help the country move forward and inspire anyone in their field to aim higher.
Infrastructure is bad but if you look at the country, there are other places besides Kathmandu and Pokhara where you can establish facilities and train kids. If you look at our history, Nepal has always done well in youth level because the foundation is there but as you move up the ladder, opportunities are no longer there and you are forced into something else. It is sad to see somebody who was so good at something leave the country and work in construction in the middle east because of the lack of opportunities.