Nepal went out of the U-22 AFC football last week, conceding a 4-2 defeat to Uzbekistan. Nepal had put up an impressive show against Bangladesh in their first match of the tournament by humiliating archrival Bangladesh by four goals to one. Nepalís victory over Bangladesh proved to be a mere flattery to hide the deception that was targeted at most of the Nepalese football fans.
Nepalís performance was sizzling by all accounts against Bangladesh and everyone placed high hopes on the team, and this was not merely because of the margin of victory. Even if Nepal had lost against Bangladesh, all critics would agree to give our players almost full marks for their performance in the field. But Nepal lost lustre with each passing game, and the performance deteriorated with each successive game.
The general impression among many people was that with the state of the nation in terrible political turmoil, one cannot expect our sports persons to give better performance. They point out that the political leaders gave all of us great hopes just a few weeks before the CA deadline (just as the football team did in the first match against Bangladesh), but in the end all hopes were dashed by the performance (non-performance, if you will) of our political leaders just as our U-22 team flattered initially only to deceive.
In a change of scene, the former Member-Secretary of the National Sports Council, Sharad Chandra Shah, passed away in Singapore last week. His tenure as the member-secretary of the countryís apex sports body was mired in controversy during the last years of his tenure. He was accused of unduly politicising sports. But none would deny that he made significant contributions to Nepalese sports, especially in the organisational sector.
The writer remembers him playing football in Tundikhel long before he became member-secretary. He was not a good player to begin with, but one must admire the girth and determination with which he played because soon he became not a bad football player. His determination was worth emulating. As member-secretary of the apex sports body, he was instrumental in the construction and renovation of stadiums and play grounds in different parts of the country; these are the very foundation on which the countryís sports are built. In the absence of such physical facilities, it is difficult to see how any country can progress towards achieving international standards.
Shah was also instrumental in pushing Nepalís cause in international sports forums. As a result, he was elected as one of the vice chairpersons of the Olympic Council of Asia. His contributions to Nepalese sports, therefore, remain acknowledged by all. However, he began taking a more active part in politics, and also unfortunately dragging sports into politics. He was seen to be active in making and unmaking of zonal commissioners and other political appointees during the Panchayat days.
There were also allegations that he used sports persons, particularly those in martial arts, against pro-democracy demonstrators during the last days of the Panchayat system. Despite this, however, his contributions to Nepalese sports will remain etched as will his politicisation of sports.
The politicisation of sports in an unfortunate move that will have a long-term impact on the countryís performance in the international sports arena. And in recent years, politicisation of sports has been more widespread than ever before. Sports persons who should have been concentrating on improving their performance and thereby bringing glory to the country are unfortunately engaged in needless and senseless political factional groups, much as the students in various colleges are.
It is more than permissible for sports persons and students to seek a better environment and facilities, but to do so under the banner of one or the other political party cannot but breed conflict in the country. The most recent example of politicising sports came last week when the top leader of the ruling Maoist party, P K Dahal, opened the All Nepal Sports Organisation (obviously affiliated to the ruling Maoists) in the capital. The great leader would, of course, be aware that most of the sports persons in the country in different sports disciplines are in their formative years, and they can be easily indoctrinated to follow one or the other political ideologies.
In the case of the Dahal-opened organisation, the ideology would be the far left one. In martial arts, those learning the sports do so at a very early age, and these girls and boys can be used and have been used in the past to achieve political goals. We should at least expect our political leaders in the enlightened democratic era of the 21st century to keep sports, sports persons and organisations apolitical. But then Dahal and other leaders of other parties may be following the example set by the late Sharad Chandra Shah.
Keep politics away
No wonder that people in the street these days say that the countryís poor performance in the U-22 football is a reflection of the countryís politics which has sunk so low and so deep in our sports. Our leaders, if they are wise, might decide to keep politics away from education and sports, but if they canít resist the temptation, they might at least practise sporting politics so that the people are not made to suffer unnecessarily.