Sporty Spirit in The Kathmandu Post

Bullet to cricket ball: A blind man’s pitch

“There is nothing impossible in the world.”

As he said these words in front of a gathering of people most of whom couldn’t see him, he was greeted by thunderous applause. Those clapping either knew that the speaker had proved his words or were enthusiastic about what was coming next.

Pawan Ghimire, the man crazy about making Nepali blind play in the Blind Cricket World Cup, spoke as one ambitious blind individual. And why not? After all, after losing his eyesight in a Maoist ambush four years ago, the Nepali Army (NA) captain has been able to put all that behind him and start life anew.

“I lost both eyes on July 8, 2003 in the Maoist ambush,” Ghimire told the Post. For a seeing-turned-blind, it wasn’t an easy life. It was last year that he was invited to participate in a cricket training camp for the blind, and he joined.

“I had played a little cricket during my childhood,” he said. “But during that eight-day training, I learnt much about blind cricket.” When the Pakistani trainers left, it was he who took on the responsibility of continuing the training.

He was then invited to the Third Blind Cricket World Cup in Pakistan as an observer, given a 22-day training and also awarded with a special prize from the Pakistan Blind Cricket Council (PBCC). Since then, he has been a player-cum-coach conducting trainings.

“Now we have around 45 blind who regularly play cricket in addition to 150 who can play,” Ghimire said sitting in the Institute of Engineering grounds – the venue for the first ever National Blind Cricket Tournament being co-organized by Cricket Association of Blinds, Nepal (CABN) and the Welfare Society for Blind and Disabled, with support from PBCC.

“It’s really amazing,” Abdul Razzak, who led Pakistani blind cricketers at two world championships, said. “Within eight months of hearing about it, they are organizing a tournament.” The event will run for the next four days and is being participated by three teams – Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Kirtipur. Rauthat was scheduled to participate but couldn’t make it due to the terai tensions.

“People here have the craze, they want to learn and do something,” Razzak said. “Very soon, Nepal is going to make a very good team and it’s an honor for us too because we initiated cricket here.” PBCC is all set to invite Nepal for a tour at the end of this year to participate in the Afro-Asian Games.

With the slogan “Rising with the Rising Nepal”, CABN is all set to send Nepal to participate in the Fourth World Cup in 2010. The organizers hope that the event will give the blind cricketers exposure. “This is for social awareness, we want to tell society that the blind too are capable of doing something,” event co-coordinator Sunil Timilsina said.

Ghimire’s achievement as a blind is something that had injected hope into many blind people. His father, who was present at the ceremony, proudly told the Post that he saw little difference in his son’s life after the incident.

When asked about the difference between being a seeing army officer and a blind cricketer, Ghimire answered insightfully, “The idea is the same – read and beat the opponent. Only difference is between lead bullet and cricket ball.”

Sporty Spirit in The Kathmandu Post

Challenges for national sports in New Nepal

When the whole state is going through the process of restructuring and every sector is being put in line with the concept of “new and prosperous” Nepal, nobody is saying anything about sports. This is, no doubt, the biggest disadvantage that the sector has for decades now. Sports are always the less priority sector for the state, and for that matter, the majority of the people as well. No decision makers – be it officials or lawmakers – are much concerned about the sector, not realizing the fact that sports could be the catalyst for glorifying the image of the country globally.

The tendency of neglecting sports has its roots in the failure of Nepali sportspersons to do well in the big events and lack of professionalism within the country itself. Out of South Asia, Nepal is almost absent in international level events apart from a few medals in such contact games like taekwondo, a hope-raising performance in cricket and one off-surprise win in football. Lack of professionalism in sports is neither letting talented players to continue playing nor helping change the mindset of families to encourage their children in sports. Earning from sports is a very recent trend but that doesn’t apply to many players.

When people in the government don’t care about sports, then the hope for strong policy and programs to develop the sector doesn’t hold much water. Lack of policies and plans in the present, and the disciplines’ exploited past, has made sports a ship without the compass in the middle of an ocean.

“We know where to go and what we can achieve. But since we don’t know the path, we’re lost,” said Jeevan Ram Shrestha, the member-secretary of National Sports Council (NSC), while launching the Vision 2020 last week.

Vision 2020, let it be noted, is a long-term sight-setting for sports in Nepal. But nobody knows how long a charter without proper plans and programs, and prepared by a member-secretary appointed in the first place for his political affiliations, will be followed.

Although very few, there are glimpses of success that Nepali athletes can achieve if the state takes the sector seriously. The players are dedicated and talented enough to make the nation proud. And the only thing they lack is proper grooming, and that very lacking aspect brings us to the biggest challenges that stood tall and strong between them and their success in sports.

“The main challenge is the infrastructure,” Binaya Raj Pandey, the president of Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN), says. “Without practice facilities in and around the country, we can’t even think of top level athletes.”

This not only implies to cricket but to all sports. It’s not new for us to read the news that players are practicing in candlelight or that they haven’t been supplied the equipment.

Apart from the infrastructure developed for political reasons in the Panchayat era, and some other venues developed out of necessity during the organization of SA Games in 1999, the country has almost been quiet on the part of infrastructure development. For top-level football, the capital city has only one stadium; and the same goes for cricket too.

“Without giving players proper fields to play and practice on, how can we expect them to do well at the international levels?” Pandey asks.

If Nepal won the Plate Championship in the 2006 Youth World Cup, it’s the young cricketers’ own talents more than anything else that should be congratulated. If young footballers reached the second round of the Asian U-17 Championship, it’s only a glimpse of the result that can be achieved with properly trained players. If Nepali taekwondo or karate or wushu players held Nepal’s head high, then it’s their singular individual dedication that should be saluted.

“Social status,” Ganesh Thapa, the yesteryears’ star footballer who now leads the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), expresses. “Where is the social status for the players? Let’s not talk about how the society takes a player: even the government doesn’t give the players the due respect.”

For Thapa, reorganization of players, such as along the line of doctors or engineers or academicians, would make them forget other hazards. That, however, is not the case here.

“Until the players are accorded due social respect and status and given employment opportunities, we can’t think of being at the top level,” Thapa adds.

Although no one would like to speak publicly, the chronic “politics in sports” syndrome is something that has long been hampering the development of sports as much as anything else. Although the state is abuzz with talks of democratization, nobody is looking at the much practiced “no democracy” state of affairs in Nepali sports. Most of the sports associations are in mutual conflicts, and many of them are not holding elections as the law of the land requires. The whispered bitter truth is that the “officials are more concerned about [their own] benefits than the development of sports itself.”

NSC, the government body that runs sports in Nepal, has long been challenged in its authority by Nepal Olympic Committee (NOC) – the internationally recognized body that oversees the participation and development of sports. The conflict between the two has resulted in two different committees being recognized respectively by many associations.

That is possibly because NSC takes the sports association either as an ally or an enemy – and not as the agency they should be using to develop sports.

“The Association plays an important role in the development of any sports, and the government should use them as a channel,” Thapa says. “If we hope to be at the top level, we have to go to the grassroots level; and that is not possible without good support from the government,” Thapa adds.

Professionalism is another challenge for the sports. Both football and cricket are trying to turn the games into money spinning events. ANFA has been striding forward with prize money in the national league football while cricket is trying to learn from the rival game that it is challenging to become the popular sports.

But “We can’t always expect players to deliver purely because of their passion for the game,” Thapa says.

The growing interest of corporate houses in sports is eminent, but not enough. It has so far been just for the game, not for the players. Corporate houses are taking sports as a good avenue for advertisement, not as their corporate social responsibility. If the latter had been the case, then there would be corporate houses employing players, thus freeing them from the biggest pressure – that of earning bread and butter for their livelihood.

It is the passion for the game that is so far holding the sector together. No wonder the young cricketers have impressed the world. But along with them, the other impressive factor is also the number of fans watching the cricket matches. Football clubs are hoping to turn professional based on the number of people watching their matches as the national league, which runs for almost three months, as well is getting the expected number of spectators.

With so much palpable interest among people, there is no lack of enthusiasm for the sports. Given that every sector of the society supports the development of sports, as Thapa believes, Nepal could play World Cup within 25 years while Pandey believes that by 2016, given that there is no let and hindrance, Nepal will be playing one-day international (ODI) cricket. Other sports too can deliver.

If we are hoping to build a new nation, sports is something that can’t be left out because, even if it’s not the top priority of any nation, it’s something that makes the heart feel happy.

And happiness is priceless!

(As published in The Kathmandu Post)

Sporty Spirit in The Kathmandu Post

Lofty dreams for a little game

“What’s the national game of Nepal?”

“Uh… Dandi biyo?”

Officially Nepal doesn’t have a national game but for many Nepalese the traditional game played with two sticks is our national game.

The game, which is popular mainly in the hinterlands, is played just for fun and has no universal set of rules.

“But no more,” declares a young gentleman who has started to explore the traditional game and is trying to finalize the first ever draft of its rules. “We have collected the rules of the game from all over the country.”

Bijay Poudel, a 24-year-old Information Management graduate, has even formed the Nepal Dandi Biyo Association (ADBA), which he himself heads. ADBA has already organized a few events and demonstrations around the country, uniting the seven district level dandi biyo clubs. There are dandi biyo clubs in Bardiya, Pyuthan, Udayapur, Sindhuli, Saptari, Dhankuta and Saptari districts.

The association has a clear goal. “We will standardize the game and take it to the international level,” Poudel said. This might look a big ask – and of course it is – but ADBA has discovered that the game is played not only in Nepal but also in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and India. “A member of ADBA, Lekhnath Ghimire studied a little about similar games in those countries during visits for other reasons,” Poudel informed.

Still, giving the game an international re-organization is a far cry. Poudel is cognizant of that. “It’s not easy, because we are in an initial stage,” he said, adding, “But if all those concerned give enough attention to the game we loved to play, then it’s not that difficult either.”

Dandi biyo may or may not make it to the international level but even if the association succeeds in its short term goal – holding a national level tournament at the earliest- it would be quite a feat.

However, the road doesn’t look easy even at the national level. National Sports Council (NSC), the umbrella organization for sport, has so far ignored their plea to register the association and even the first draft of the rules looks shabby with no fixed number of players and scoring system.

“It’s only preliminary rules,” Poudel defended. “We have just collected the different rules and put them together in the best possible way.”

He said the association will discuss with everyone involved and from the experience of demonstration matches amend the rules. “We may even go for a completely new scoring system and add accessories like helmets for the players,” he added.

Dandi biyo is a traditional game that is fast disappearing from the urban areas. The game involves hitting the biyo – a small stick, with the dandi – the bigger stick, sending it flying as far as possible and scoring points with the lengths of the dandi. It’s an individual game played in a group with the player scoring the most points emerging winner.

Poudel, who worked as a sports writer for a website, conceived the idea of developing the game during discussions for creating new content ideas for the website. “It just came into my mind, probably because I used to play it when I was a boy,” he said. “Once it struck me, I could never get out of it despite having to spend time and money on to it.”

He then started talking about it with anyone he met, with taekwondo coach Thaneshwor Rai encouraging him the most, and persuaded a few friends and sports stars – cricket captain Binod Das, legendary footballer Upendra Man Singh and taekwondo diva Sangina Vaidhya to help him. Binod is a committee member while Singh and Vaidhya are the advisors of the association.

The association and the study of the game is run with the pocket money of the members but Poudel hopes it won’t be longer before people start noticing that dandi biyo can be developed as the identity of Nepal and help him out. “Dandi biyo can become our national identity in the sports arena if we all work together,” he emphasized.

(As published in The Kathmandu Post)