After the severe thrashing the national team suffered in the AFC Challenge Cup in March, the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) officials should be picking up the pieces and assessing where they went wrong and what should be the course ahead. British coach Roberts Graham left bag baggage before the tourney was even over, hinting, however, that he would like to be back for the next SAG Games.
If ANFA has any ounce of pride, the British tourist should not be recalled, quoted as he was that he never realised that the functioning here belonged to unspecified sixteenth century practices. If given another opportunity, he might make similar notorious comments as a shield for failing to deliver what he might have expected of himself.
Timely probe should easily net a relatively good coach from several offers from foreign countries - from Asia or Europe. It does not require much digging and running from pillar to post. In the 1990s, there was a model German coach who served Nepali football for several years. He never complained and was always encouraging and motivating his wards who, however, never took the game to the heights ANFA bosses seemed to promise the game’s enthusiasts. It is a pity that ANFA officials never bothered to appreciate such contributions.
Set priority aright
The crux of the problem is the ANFA office bearers. The frequent foreign trips and enormous amounts of money involved are what lure into the fold those with a stranglehold on the existing mechanism of our sports sector. Politics robs an organisation of sportsmanship and invites problems relentlessly afflicting the country’s largest spectator sports.
ANFA’s name itself should be a constant reminder that not all is what meets the eye. When the Nepal Football Association was hounded out by the powers that be four decades ago and now reduced to a footnote in history, ANFA emerged as the "umbrella" body of Nepali football. Its elections are steeply in favour of the incumbents.
From the time this scribe closely followed and covered or commented upon football in 1973 and after, the consistent onslaught by football officials has been to declare that trainings and practices are conducted regularly whereas the defence almost invariably has been to find lame excuses. A classic example: "It was only the first 20 minutes that our team played badly." The devil in the statement was that the goals that were conceded were in these very first 20 minutes! The rest of the play was dulled in outright defence.
Sometimes the line of defence is that the boys "played very well" and that "they only could not find the mark!" Once might be a happenance, twice a chance but when this happens most of the times, it is simply a pattern exhibiting bad play and worse defence amidst pathetic attempts to raltionalise it all.
Consistent inconsistency is a clear indication of an athlete or team depending upon more luck than good performance. Sports enthusiasts can discern neck and neck competitions, razor sharp defeats and quality fares. But when officials get preoccupied in making hay while the shine shines or they try to make a prolonged career out of their incumbency, not even Lord Pashupatinath might be able to come to the rescue.
In the mid-1980s, the first truly international tournament was held in Kathmandu for youths. More than 20 Asian countries, including those from South Asia, the Middle East and the Far East, fielded the cream of their football talents. When this scribe pointed out that many of our team members exceeded the age limit set by the tournament regulations, he was threatened by some officials and players that they could not be blamed if the scribe’s "hands and feet were broken".
The over-aged players were fielded, only to suffer humiliating defeats and confined to the spectator parapets at the early stage. The naked unsportsmanship of the host country was underscored by the fact that some of the college-going players would have passed their School Leaving Certificate at the age of 10 or even less.
The private stand of the officials was that "all other teams" cheat on this count.
Football has the distinction of becoming the first regularly organised competition to be held in Nepal for more than 60 years. Compared with other disciplines, it also takes a major share in terms of budget allocations from the government or international bodies down the decades.
At this stage, we do not demand that our teams necessarily fetch trophies and medals at the World Cup, the Asia Cup, the Olympic Games or the Asiad. But we do deserve better performance in the preliminaries of the various competitions and the South Asian Games. A flash in the pan here and a rare shot there only make an exception that by no means sets a standard for consistency.
Hence, ANFA office bearers should gird up their loins and chart out detailed yearly schedules for specific tournaments at the district, regional and national levels. Discipline in meeting the tourney deadlines should be demonstrated in practice. The National Sports Council should monitor the performance accordingly.
Tournaments are for also spotting talents early and enabling them to develop their potentials fully. Imagination, drive and dedication are what deliver the desired scores. No officials are infallible, neither the existing ones nor the previous ones nor the ones to succeed the current crop. The quality of leadership is to learn from past experiences - of one’s own and of others. The consistently inconsistent performance of Nepali footballers is mainly because of the high promises officials seem to sound and partly because of the failure of many a media to devote more to blow-by-blow reports, follow-ups and analyses that keep the sporting public abreast of the goings-on.
Many of the 100-plus dailies from across the country, together with more than 350 FM radio and over a dozen TV channels, cover sports regularly. The larger media groups have their own separate sports desks and sports reporters. The growth in terms of space and staff for sports stories should be matched by the quality of contents.
Mere statements and speeches announced by sports officials are far from adequate for catering to the interests and curiosities of the vast number of soccer enthusiasts. It would be a whale of a service to readers, listeners and viewers if sporting fans were in the know as to who is doing what and who is faring how in between and during tournaments and trainings. This way they can gauge the prospects of our teams and individual in particular tournaments.
In other words, individual players and teams, including their forms and placing, should be closely followed, monitored and reported in depth for sports pages enriched with relevant, timely and newsworthy information. Mere promises and hopes dished out by officials and coaches will not do. Reports should be based on different aspects and angles that critically dwell upon the strengths and weaknesses of a policy, event or performance.