Monday, December 27, 2010

Joy Forever

Sachin Tendulkar scored his 50th century in Test matches this week. The news made headlines. Of course, the feat deserved it. At one point of time, say only a decade or two ago, it was way beyond anybody’s comprehension that a tally of 50 could ever be reached, especially that modern day cricket was getting more and more competitive. Those who wrote on cricket then would talk of 30s as a benchmark; none could even think that half a century of centuries could actually be accomplished.
So the feat was definitely special, worth printing in gold. But for fans it was something even more. It was an end to their wait, for they were waiting for the genius to reach there. As if some divine being had told them, this is a part of their pre-planned journey – watching Sachin making history.
Right after he scored his milestone ton, one colleague of this scribe asked him, “Don’t you think he’ll play for another five years?” Now take that for a question. And in certain ways, the question itself was an answer. A manifestation of their belief in the man, that stood just 5-foot 5-inches above the ground, yet towering above most of his contemporaries.
For one thing, Sachin Tendulkar would stand above all, that is for gathering the most number of fans across the globe, just the way we see him gathering runs in his pomp.
This scribe, among many of his generation, is one such self-declared a fan of his. The generation that took to adulthood in 1990s – which also included some Nepali cricketers who played in recent times – watched him take his first steps in international scene. The whole generation read as many pieces written on him as possible. For some, it was statistics; for some food for thought; for some a way of learning cricket; while for some, one more topic to talk at the tea stalls. And that would either precede or proceed with the highlights of his innings on TV, which for many of us, were always a ‘masterpiece’. The magazines like ‘The Sportstar’ were the new bible, but any issue that did not carry a story on him was ‘a piece of trash’ and not worth buying.
Growing up in 1990s was not easy. Nepal was an infant democracy, trying to learn how to walk the democratic path. The panchayat era influence on Nepali sports was there, although weakening; the newer controllers were trying to learn how to rein it in; the free market economic policy was the buzzword, although the younger lot were still to grab the concept; the insurgency was just flaring up in some remote part of the country; prices were going up and pocket money was not able to match with those; the curriculum wasn’t getting easier and the career path appeared limited; the IT revolution had started in our neighbourhood and we were not part of it – all enough to keep teenagers frustrated.
But then there was Sachin Tendulkar. In some of the most ferocious strokeplay we’d ever watched, we found peace. With a young boy looks (then he was young as well), and a heavy willow in his hands, he was trying to prove that there was hope, amidst frustration. The mortals suddenly appeared elevated, for there was some heavenly charm in those innings. The 90s had become bearable, despite frustrations it held for so many of us.
Come 2000s, we felt – journalists can be cruel people, especially with their questions. They talked about his decline. They asked him – When would you retire? And as most players, who spend a lot of time with PR coaches these days, he’d skirt away without an answer.
The fans looked sideways to find an actual answer. When there’s a lull in any player’s career, how do we know that he or she will not overcome the slump? Although journalists are quick to write a player off, fans are not.
And celebration of Tendulkar’s innings is vindication of fan’s faith in him. For they knew, it would come. It had to, even if it meant 7 centuries within a year.
And that’s a toast to Sachin Tendulkar, probably the greatest modern day cricketer, who could hold on to his fans, even when he could not do so, at times, with runs.
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 25th December, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly)

Next is What!

A few days ago, a fellow journalist, in a reaction to a facebook posting of mine, asked me a question, “What will happen to Nepali cricket after Roy Dias is gone? Would it collapse along with his farewell?”
A few of my other friends scoffed at it. A few were angry, while a few thought the comment was insane.
What impact can a single man make to the whole sector? A reasonable assessment… Perhaps pragmatic approach… For this approach makes you continue, even after a minor debacle…
A similar story had appeared in an international media few months ago, mocking New Zealand cricket. It said the entire New Zealand cricket would retire, when Daniel Vettori, its captain, decides to call it a day. No doubt, Daniel Vettori has been one of the few things Kiwi cricketers can take pride in, over the last decade or so. But he alone is not New Zealand cricket. But the above lines only highlight the contribution one single human being can make to the entire fraternity.
Likewise, a deeper look at the question from the fellow journalist makes you try and understand why it came. It came from a person that loves Nepali cricket. And is worried for it… Worries and planning do not make good bedfellows. They have to be kept aside, separately in water tight compartments, for worries may hamper plans. But you worry, if the road ahead looks foggy, sights gets blurred by the confusion that crossroads bring in your mind. And we can’t forget that Nepali cricket stands at the crossroads.
Crossroads it is, because a coach that has been there for 9 years (actually just a few months short of a decade), is leaving. Crossroads it is, because we haven’t yet groomed a person, who can take over half of the responsibilities that man was given. Crossroads it is, because we have a cricket board that is clearly divided, evident by the President and General Secretary hardly present together in planning meetings. Crossroads it is, because after a hard fight over the years we have achieved the status of number one ranking among Non-Test playing nations in Asia.
This is a fight that started nine years ago, when we got an old school coach from Sri Lanka that believed in teaching discipline first and then improving techniques. A coach who had played cricket at the highest level, the Test matches, and already coached a Test side… Those were the days we were only beginning to learn how to grip the willow.
Having been one of the first journalists to have met him in Kathmandu, I remember a fellow colleague asking Roy, “Sir, can you tell me about what kind of player you were?” This is perhaps the best example of what we, as journalists and nation, knew about cricket. Next to nothing…
Times change, the same way cricket pitch does over five days of Test cricket. And now we have a side that may not be world beaters, but are at least the top side in Asia (how many Non-Test playing cricket nations do we hear of outside Asia?). And that perhaps shows what Roy Dias has given us. His belief in his methods, his ways, of taking control, of mentoring the players, have been vindicated. The rankings will remain in place till the end of 2012, and Cricket Association of Nepal will be richer by 50 to 60K in USD, for infrastructure development. And for now on, we’d be dependent on a new coach, to take our team, hopefully, to newer heights. A new chapter has to begin. And this could be good grounds to begin it.
Under the mentorship of Roy Dias, we’ve won more matches than lost. And that should make a cricketing nation proud. Apart from wins, our cricketers have been our goodwill ambassadors to the places they’ve visited. In a recent meeting Dias told me, “It’s not only about winning or losing. It’s also about how you play. We can’t forget that Cricket is a gentleman’s game.”
That would be his contribution too, trying to bring in gentlemanliness back in cricket. And at the risk of sounding emotional, I would say, “Roy, for that at least, you’d be missed!”
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 18th December, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Are we paying heed?

"Stunning beaches on The Great Ocean Rd.. Gorgeous drive!!"
The above lines appeared on the micro blogging site twitter, on England cricketer Kevin Pietersen's page, couple of hours before he was fined for speeding in Australia. Pietersen was driving a Lamborghini sports car.
Naturally, the incident made headlines. For Pietersen is a star player for his team and commands huge respect among cricket followers in the world, as his twitter posts are followed by more than hundred thousand fans. To top it all, not many would have forgotten the innings of 227 he played to down Australia, making his team earn a lead in the Ashes series.
For media, it was news worthy of a headline.
Cut to another incident.
25-member Nepali women football team left for Dhaka to participate in the SAFF Women´s Football Championship. Some notable TV channels ignored to cover the story, forget making it a headline. The news appeared in print and on online portals, sans fanfare.
It should be interesting here to mention that the team has a sizeable number, 9 players from the team that managed to secure the runners up position in the last edition of South Asian Games. Yet the hoopla was missing.
Was it because the participants were women? Feminists would love to believe that, for that could be one reason for them to picket some office, or maybe the constituent assembly.
For one thing, men's participation in similar tournament draws a lot of attention. It begins with the announcement of the probables, followed by media analysis of the players, their past performance and fitness, and even goes to the extent of featuring them in celebrity events. We may not have reached the level of having a set of interviews and photo sessions for their hairdos a la' David Beckham, but in past we've tried to emulate that, where the footballers have been the subject and participants at the ramp.
Nothing wrong with that, as long as football, or any other sport comes into limelight. When players become stars, more people follow the game, and with popularity comes in money, which further enriches the sport and those involved in it. Market mantra tells us that.
I've often been a part of talks, on the sidelines of sports event, where majority of our sport reporters say, "We need to make our players appear better than they are and create stars out of them."
So what went wrong this time around? Hardly more than a couple of bylines were seen, covering the story.
Now, Nepali women's football team has been grouped with Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives at the SAFF championship. Having seen the past record, Nepali women should be able to make it to the next round, which is the semi-final. Anything under that could be considered an underachievement, for majority of the players are from departmental teams, which spend quite a lot of energy and resources – by Nepali standards – to keep the players fit.
That basically means that we have a real prospect in our hand. If Nepali eaves could keep their cool and focus on their skills, we could be a tough nut to crack for the regional power, India – whom we might meet for the title, that is, if everything went smooth on both the sides.
Was it also because the event was happening just after a bigger event – the Asiad – and everybody was taking a nap? Hardly looks so.
A few sport officials also revealed recently that the team would be sent to Bangladesh in a bus, because the venue was not too far from Jhapa, where the girls were camping. And here, we are talking about a national team, not a school team taking part in regional tournament in a neighbouring country. National team almost sneaking into the host country to participate in a South Asian championship... How do you beat that?
Pietersen gets a fine for a speeding car and makes headlines. The women's football team, that was runners-up in championship of similar stature - is carrying national pride and gets inadequate attention.
The question is: Who's watching the Big brother, the media?
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 11th December, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lessons to be Learnt?

Deepak Maharjan was mere 7-year old when Chitra Bahadur Gurung won Nepal a bronze in the 1990 Asian Games, incidentally in Chinese city of Beijing. So it's highly unlikely that he might have been inspired by that event. And after that, we could never see the podium finish at the Asian level, as far as the pugilists are concerned.
Incidentally, it had to be China again, where the medal drought finally ended for the sport. And incidentally, it had to be another humble player who finished at the podium. In sports, it is said, you don't win silver, forget bronze. You only win gold.
But then, we are celebrating a third place finish. And why not, if it was not for Deepak Maharjan, our bag would remain empty. The media could have blamed it on the officials; after all they were the ones who had almost put the entire contingent's trip in jeopardy. After all, they were the ones who went to Guangzhou with the players, and were spotted in cities like Hong Kong and Macau, during the Games itself, while the players would hardly find a couple of hands clapping for them.
So what if it was only a bronze that he won. So what if he could only score one point against the 6-footer Indian boxer. Deepak Maharjan did not create magic, or set the ring on fire, and perhaps it was not even expected of him. For he was not the one who would give juicy soundbites to camera or make promises even before setting his foot in the ring. Before heading to China, he did not tell you he was going to break any record or a neck. What he did tell us was that he's going to try his best. What we conveniently forgot was he had won a gold in South Asian Games, last time around.
And now, he is a celebrated name. He even has a page on the Wikipedia now. And perhaps, he is not even aware of it. For he is a simpleton, a man who's likely to remain unnoticed unless you want to interview him. And there are chances you might regret interviewing him, because his lines are terse and hardly likely to incite anyone. But if you listen to him carefully, you might be feel differently.
When everyone who knows a bit of sports in the country, including media, was busy criticizing the sport officials for spoiling the environment even before the Asian Games, he would not even speak about it.
Upon his return he said, "Our job is to prepare well, and not concentrate on anything that happens outside." But it must be tough, not reacting to what is happening around you. He tells you, "That hampers preparation."
Terse, but to the point... Ask him how he feels after grabbing bronze at the Asian Games, and he would grope for words, often mumbling and trying to thank the entire family, friends, fans and god knows who not. But you would rate him for what he does in the ring, and not the speech he would deliver after receiving the medal. Doing both well would be great, we'd have a showman. But here, we are in dire need of flag bearers rather than stars.
Post Asiad, I could not help but notice 3 things.
Deepak came back for a hero's welcome, with his villagers thronging the airport just before midnight.
So did the other officials, one of whom was manhandled, by those who call themselves players.
A senior official from Sports Council - who shall here remain nameless and for his lack of understanding should remain jobless - told me, "Forget my talks on TV. We cannot even pay proper salaries, forget big plans for future."
Makes you wonder: Are we learning our lessons?

(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 4th December, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Inconvenient Truth

It's official now. The honourable Sports Minister is going to lead our contingent at the Asian Games. He will be the chef de mission as we're being represented by our players at the biggest stage in Asia. That, effectively, has killed the speculation and a lot of claims and counter claims over who's to head our contingent as top athletes from all over Asia parade in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
You would breathe a sigh of relief at such a piece news, or maybe throw your hands in despair, depending upon how you view the participation. But, if you were an athlete, you'd just nod, and say, "Well, what difference does it make?" Given the nonchalance of our sport officials towards the players in previous visits, the lines speak volumes.
There are two sides to the minister's participation – one, of ending the controversy, and the other, of raising more questions. Indeed, Minister as Chef de Mission has ended the present claims and counter-claims from both National Sports Council member secretary and Nepal Olympic Committee officials. Anything that puts an end to controversy in sport is a welcome move.
But another view, and the one which could have far reaching consequence is – should a minister head such a mission? Maybe yes, but maybe not… The chef de mission is a liaison role and it includes coordinating between the Games Organizing Committee as well as other multi-sport organizations. The chef de mission is expected to know the technical part of sport, the rules and the updates in the rules.
With due respect to all the politicians – which is the group ministers belong to – it can be safely said that they, mostly, are unaware of rules of sports. In such a condition how well can our minister perform the role, is a question that does not even need to be answered. All over the world, perhaps without exception, ministers are not given that responsibility. Even if they do join in as chef de mission, it is because they hold some other post in sporting bodies.
More importantly, the ministers, in sports festivals of this stature, are invited by the Games Organizing Committee or the IOC, depending upon the clout of the ministers in the larger body. They're invited as special guests and given VVIP treatment.
Has our minister done wrong not to deserve that treatment? Or alternatively, why doesn't he want to see himself there? The questions have no easy answers.
Meanwhile, the honorable Supreme Court has put an end to the question over which one is the legitimate of the two NOCs. The only flip side is that the one not recognized by the Supreme Court enjoys IOC recognition.
Honoring and acting on the Supreme Court verdict will take time and hopefully, IOC will also honor it. But one important part of the apex court verdict in the past week went unnoticed. It said, sports associations did not need registration under National Sports Council.
While it may have made not have made the NSC authorities very happy, it has perhaps, opened the doors for modernization of Nepali sports fraternity. The verdict said that the sport associations needed affiliation from NSC and not registration. This effectively ends NSC control over sporting bodies in the country.
Sport, in most countries, has flourished because the sport's governing body stopped 'controlling' them. Rather, the governing bodies are expected or should 'manage' the sports association. Gone are the days when some elites would, as an act of benevolence, set up an organization to 'let' sport flourish. These days, the governing bodies facilitate and coordinate with other bodies, rather than administer them.
There's no reason why the same system cannot be used in Nepal. Rather, the question would be: Why should we not adopt for a system that is modern and has more chances of success?
And thankfully, the Supreme Court has given us a start.
(The article appeared in a weekly column of yours truly, in The Kathmandu Post, Nov 6, 2010)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Good Bye, Roy!

If you've followed this week's sports pages and talk shows on TV closely, it would appear as if Nepali cricket is about to change. The scenes are changing and changing fast.
We are about to see the departmental teams (Police Club and Armed Police Force) in cricket. There are now 8 cricketing regions, up from existing 6. Not much needs to be said about the departmental teams and their contribution to Nepali sport. And to everybody's excitement, APF have announced their intentions for the domestic league by signing the top names in Nepali cricket already.
With the national team captain already in their ranks, APF is sure to draw a lot of attention, should competitive cricket be held on schedule. The arrival of two teams is sure to heat up the market for the cricketers, as some regions – which are more in number now – will also see the cricket fertile lands drying up for themselves. However, this is an age for competition and Darwin's theory - survival of the fittest – is sure to decide future of a number of cricketers.
However, all that could be termed secondary in light of a huge decision taken by the Cricket Association of Nepal. It has decided not to extend, or rather demand extension, of its long serving coach, Roy Luke Dias.
Roy entered Nepali cricket just before the Youth Asia Cup in 2001, as his wards won him the title, right on his birthday. He had told this scribe then, "This is the best gift the boys could have given me."
This was what the Nepali cricket had to offer him. Regards, a lot of it, and sometimes too much of it… Even to the extent of inspiring awe, from many, including players and cricket officials. And why not, during his playing days, he was regarded as the most complete Test batsman of Sri Lanka. Only recently, Sunil Gavaskar, who himself was a purists' delight as batsmen, was heard during commentary, "Roy Dias is the best Sri Lankan batsman that I have seen. Better than even modern day run machine Mahela Jayawardane."
A long stint at any post, cannot remain without controversies. And we would do well to remember that Dias was no God. He had been a taskmaster, forcing habits into his wards, for which he was not going to be given the title of Mr. Popular within the fraternity. And he knew it. That's because he was groomed that way. Sri Lanka was trying to make mark in world cricket during his younger days. 'Discipline is the most important virtue you can have,' he'd heard it many a times during his younger days. And naturally he tried to inculcate that into the people he was given charge of.
When he took the Nepali team to the U-19 World Cup in 2001, Martin Snedden, former New Zealand cricketer and tournament director asked him, "Roy, what are you doing in Nepal. You should be coaching Sri Lankan team." But he stayed with team Nepal.
At the risk of being controversial, I would say that Roy Dias was the best thing to happen to Nepali cricket, after Nepali boys learnt to take to the field with a willow and leather ball. Not only because he helped us learn to win, but also because we learnt our own inadequacies through him.
We never groomed proper coaches, despite him being there. We did not take help, despite knowing we should. We knew he was not going to be forever, despite him saying Nepal was his second home. Every player has a shelf life, more so a coach. Many a player don't last for half a decade, he's been a coach of our team for almost a decade. Our failings are in not being able to read the writing on the wall.
Dias going could mark an end of an era, and a new beginning. For he would go with his head held high, having earned a second home. For many, he would still hold the charm cricket had in non-commercial days.
But the question is: Have we thought properly about an alternative and transform Nepali cricket?
(The article appeared in a weekly column of yours truly, in The Kathmandu Post, Oct 2, 2010)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thank you Mr. President!

Sportspeople must be a happy lot this week. For once, they were an agenda at the President's table. Even if it was for one day, they were made the VIPs at the Presidential Palace.
Awards are what the sportsmen live for, more so, in a country like ours. When the livelihood through sports is not forthcoming, the awards, medals and the cups help them to get over the difficult days.
And when President Ram Baran Yadav met them and patted their backs for receiving the Pulsar Sports Award 2066, their heart must have taken one more leap. The first ever President of the country told them that he was 'touched' by the players´ feat of waving the national flag at the international level.
For that, Thank you Mr. President. For you have 'touched' many hearts, of the thousands who want to fill up every arena, just with the thoughts that their heroes are taking to the field. The recognition of their heroes means a lot to them.
The scribe of this column remembers the remarks of Nepal's cricket coach, after he was conferred the 'Gorkha Dakshin Bahu' by the then King Gyanendra. Apparently, the then King told him, "Thanks, Roy. Thanks for doing this for our team."
"That was one of the best moments of my life," Roy Dias told this scribe years ago (Amazingly, he was one of the nominees for Coach of the Year in the awards this time too). For him, it was a defining moment, which made him say, "Nepal is my second home."
It is these moments, which make one run that extra yard a little faster, take a leap that is a little higher, fill that kick with a little more power, hit that ball with more force, and to achieve what looked difficult only a moment earlier.
The acceptance of the award by the head of the state means a lot. It just lifts the status of the award, and in some ways, gives hopes to the sportspersons that recognition is always round the corner, given you are ready to work hard.
The Pulsar Sports award may not have become the "Ballon d'Or" (referred to as the European Footballer of the Year ) as yet. But it is interesting to note how "Ballon d'Or" became what it is now.
The "Ballon d'Or", "The Golden Ball", was conceived by France Football's chief writer Gabriel Hanot, who asked his colleagues to vote for the player of the year in Europe in 1956. It is notable that sports journalists had started it. And now it is one of the most recognized awards in football.
For the players like Paras Khadka and Ganga Adhikari, who are young and hold potential, the award must have pleased them. However, the recognition of the award by the President must have pleased the organizers of the awards, the Nepalese Sports Journalist Forum, more. For it has given them some kind of recognition. The Right honorable also mentioned that the award should be taken as a 'national award'.
For that again, Thank you Mr. President. You've given us hope that such an idea is possible – the idea of national recognition of the sportspeople.
However, one thing that might concern some is how the players for the award were chosen. A small committee of some journalists chose the nominees, and eventually also those who were awarded. That must have made some eyebrows raised. An award should make more people happy than there are eyebrows raised. This is a nation learning democratic values and transparency is the best way to learn it. Transparency in the basis of choosing the nominees and transparency in choosing the awardees.
If these things are maintained, it's only going to help the sports sector. And we may be able to say, Thank you organisers.
Now, the number of journalists allowed to vote "Ballon d'Or" has also increased. Just a couple of years ago, 96 journalists from around the world chose their top five players, compared to Hanot's colleagues in 1956.
But the question is: Are we going to learn to be more democratic and reasonable?
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 18th September, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly) 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Politics of Sport

Not long ago, our Finance Minister dropped a bombshell on sports fraternity. Of course, like any other politician, he wasn't thinking sports while talking. Rather, like any other politician, his reasons were political.
The Finance Minister said that Nepal may not be participating in the 16th Asiad, in Guangzhou, China, this November. He said, if the government cannot bring in budget before the festivals, it will not have any money to spend for the participation. His logic, albeit founded on political premises, sounds very simple. His explanation was, 'what is the point of nation's pride when there are dangers nation may not remain so'.
Bravo, Mister Minister!  Bull's eye!
Why would we want to participate, if we don't remain the nation that we are? But then, the question is – are we really headed to that direction? And in case, even if we have a slightest chance to remain as a nation – contrary to what you may fear – why not participate?
For the minister, the agenda could be opportunity to present yet another budget. But for anyone, who's played a sport at any level, the speech was unacceptable. Just by saying, participation may not be possible, he's hurt the morale of all those who dreamt of making a mark at the highest level in Asia. Many have already said it on telly, how hurt their spirits are. The enthusiasm went a notch lower. And those working with athletes will tell you, it's the spirit that gets you glory on the field, not mere ability.
These athletes have helped in hoisting the Nepali flag on foreign soils 14 times – 13 for bronze medals and once for a silver - since Asiad began in 1951. How many political contingents have achieved that so far? Ask Sabita Rajbhandari, silver medalist at 1998 Asiad, about her proudest moment in life. She'll tell you it was the moment her country's flag was being hoisted; the moment few more decided to take up the sport, thinking they too, could bring glory to the country.
The Finance Minister has hurt that spirit, by bringing doubts in the sportspersons' minds. But one thing that goes in his favor is that he was trying to aware the powers that be, of the worst case scenario. For that, Thank You Mister Minister, even if you've treaded a wrong path.
But one has to remember, even when there were proper budgets were the norm, sport always got it at last. The National Games held in 2009 got its complete budget mere 3 days before the event. 3 days! Imagine that for the biggest sporting festival in the country. And it could not be a coincidence that the players were at the receiving end, getting inferior products to use (We're not even talking about the over invoicing of the goods supplied). For Nepali participation in South Asian Games too, the complete budget was not released till the eleventh hour.
This is where the government provision for demanding bids to supply sport goods comes in. According to provisions, the government agencies have to demand for bids with a margin of 35 days. The same process cannot be completed if the margin is just a week or less than a month. If budget does not come on time, there's no bidding and the number of suppliers automatically goes down, thereby decreasing the possibility of competitive quotations. Then the sports authorities have to contact those who have goods ready to be supplied in a day or two. This is exactly where the grey marketers come into play. Those at the helm of sport governing bodies have long been accused of nexus with these kinds of suppliers.
It would be difficult to say if the budget is never cleared on time with the very intention of foul play. But it can be safely said that the situation can be improved by breaking the cycle.
Our athletes may get a chance to compete at Asian Games. They may also try to improve upon the haul of 3 bronze from the last edition.
But the question for the Finance Minister is – Sir, do you see where the problems are? Both in your speech and the system.
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 11th September, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly) 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This ain't cricket!

The so called 'Gentlemen's Game' is under yet another attack. The dark side of cricket, which inspires some to make truckloads of money at the blink of an eye, has resurfaced to show its repulsive face yet again. The incident at the Mecca of cricket has added to the cricketing jargon. Now we have to deal with the term 'spot fixing'. As if we'd already grown comfortable with the term called 'match fixing'.
This is not the first time allegations have come to Pakistani cricketers or Pakistani cricket. However, it must be one of the worst blows ever. After terror attacks and security concerns that snatched many international matches - and the much needed money - away from Pakistan, this must be the new low for our flood stricken neighbors.
Money seems to be dwindling for Pakistan cricketers, compared to their much richer counterparts on the other side of border. And for that Pakistan Cricket Board has to take some blame. The PCB looks like writing a book called 'How to ruin the best talents in the World', and from the looks of it, the book probably would be the biggest one written on sports ever. We cannot forget the numerous Pakistani cricketers who stormed the world in their teens and faded into oblivion a few years later, more often than not due to mismanagement, both personal and personnel. That could be one reason, which makes those presently donning the whites or playing under the floodlights, think - "Make hay while the sun shines".
Cricketers, or players, are human beings. And they need to continue living, even after they stop going to the field day in and day out. And survival needs funds. And the callous attitude of the administrators, who still enjoy the top posts in sports governing bodies due to favour from up above, make sure the funds do not reach where it is aimed at.
It would be quite a while before the last word is said on spot-fixing. Before that happens, it should also be noted that corruption in cricket or in sports, is only a reflection of what is prevalent in the society.
Pakistan, despite producing finest of young cricketers, has had to remain in the list of countries affected by public sector corruption for ages. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published by Transparency International, keeps Pakistan in the 139th position, out of 180 countries and territories around the world.
Interestingly, we are Pakistan's neighbors here too, at 143rd spot. The listing doesn't make us proud, but explains where we stand. More interesting is the fact that the country heading the list is New Zealand - the country which is home to just over 4 million people and some 40 million sheep. New Zealand may not be the world beaters in cricket, or any other sports for that matter. But, be it cricket or rugby, their team is there or thereabout. Most countries in the top 10 have excelled in one sport or the other.
Excellence is a culture, and coming back to the country ranked 143rd, we need to understand that. When two of the sporting bodies, Nepal Olympic Committee and Sports Ministry, formed two separate committees for feasibility study to host 13th South Asian Games, we faltered right at the starting block.
The two bodies that are expected to manage, facilitate and coordinate entire sporting gamut in Nepal failed to do exactly that, even between themselves. It raises question if these two teams have been formed for the same purpose - to serve sports in Nepal. It may appear unpleasant, but these two have hardly considered welfare of sports - take it with a pinch of salt. How many eyebrows from these two teams were raised when there were murmurs of 'match fixing' in the football League?
In world cricket, many would be ready to disband Pakistan. While it may look like an action, it would be a mere knee-jerk reaction. We need smarter action than that, here too.
In an age where players let their tongues get ahead of their brain, administrators - in Pakistan or Nepal - should not do so.
And then you may ask: When will it happen?

(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 4th September, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly) 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning from the Tiger

And Tiger Woods got divorced, officially. The man, who has dominated the sport - till date this century - cuts a lonely figure now on the greens, where once he prowled sans fear.
From the day he turned pro, he towered over all other sportsmen of the generation. A beacon for those who wanted to take up sport professionally. He was perfect, and made us feel that he could do no wrong. And we asked, "Is he human?"
Interestingly, almost on the eve of 'International Year of Tiger', he showed us signs that he was like one of us, giving in to the temptations. The frailty of human mind, and body, and the heart – just like us – could be seen in the Tiger. Woods was no longer the Tiger we knew, for his smile just before the putt, and the wave of hand just after, disappeared. The smiling assassin on the greens had lost his killer instinct. And soon, those who vowed to always stay with him disappeared too. A champion had become a challenger, a competitor, a mortal.
Woods was the biggest earning sportsperson in the world, and still retains most of it. But none of the millions he made teeing off can help his fall from grace. Many would talk of morality lessons, but the Tiger story tells the youngsters not to take their position for granted. The 'magic' that he created with his clubs has not left him, for they did not follow the sponsors – it was the sponsors who followed that 'magic'. But the problems that surround Woods would make it doubly hard for him to recreate the same aura that once made other competitors categorized as 'also ran'.
This is a case study, perhaps for sports psychologists. But also a case study every aspiring sportsperson should read. It tells you that nothing is permanent, neither success nor mental toughness or mental focus. In sports, everything is always on the verge of disintegration. You just need to blink your eyes a little longer.
The case is relevant in the Nepali context, as most players – even if they're national champs – are still, the 'aspirants'. In our participation at the World Cricket League Division 4, we were 'aspiring' to enter the World Cup.
Despite a couple of 'misses' at crucial matches, our cricketers have not fallen from grace, at least for now (Those who thought the World Cup berth was ours already, were daydreaming). But as we aspire to enter the World Cup, our players need to start thinking like the players at that level should. So far, this has not been seen. Right at the airport, after return, Nepali captain told the media, cricket has to be restructured in Nepal. Bravo Paras Khadka! Yes, cricket in Nepal has to be restructured, but airport is not the place to discuss it. And nor it is a smart idea to discuss it with the Press.
Paras is a smart cricketer, who believes in giving his best all the time. But he won't go very far, if he's not careful about what to speak and when, and of course – to whom. Any soundbite given to camera, any quote given to newspaper, goes in public sphere and does not remain your own. Cricket Association of Nepal may not be the best cricketing authority in the world – and needs restructuring for sure – but the dirty linen should not be washed in public. The national team captain definitely should be worried for facilities for cricketers and improvement of cricket in the country, but he also needs to be careful about every word he utters in public.
The batting debacle seen in recent championship has to be scrutinized, and tactics followed in Italy should be discussed, but with relevant people. Press will always question, but it is you who decides what to answer.
For now, Tiger Woods has chosen to remain silent, despite tabloids filling pages and selling extra copies talking about him. And who knows, one day – sooner than later – he may also bounce back, given he keeps his focus on the game.
Our cricketers too, will get another shot at the World Cup entrance.
But the question is, for Paras Khadka, how do we keep that focus?
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 27th August, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly) 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Recent Coloumn on TKP

Of Diminishing returns and Hopes
- Somesh Verma

The past week was notable one for Nepali sports, where the two most popular team games in the country kept its viewers glued to news.
Our national cricket team, for all we might have written, showed us how inadequate we are, assessing our opponents. At the risk of vilifying our cricketers, we must say, we proved to be inadequate in our batting and the boys' temperament at foreign venues.
 It must be said that the problems lie more in the boys' temperament than the skills because USA, Italy, Cayman Islands, Argentina or Tanzania – who are playing in the World Cricket League Division 4 – are not a better team than ours, but are equals. The chinks in the batting line-up and their mental make-up have been exposed, and probably needs a careful dissection now, before it is too late. Already, the bunch of cricketers who participated at the Youth World Cup in 2002 in New Zealand and won quite a lot of accolades there, are ageing, and do not look a certainty in the line-up two years from now. Some of them are on the way out, due to diminishing returns they've shown lately, despite a bright start to their cricketing career.
The other and potentially promising was the story of football. The governing body of football in Nepal, ANFA, has announced its calendar for two years. But, as most our football stories go, it is potentially promising. And like every potentially promising movie, it also has chances of becoming a dud at the box-office.
The most promising part of the story was organizing a National League next year. For many football fans it may have come as a relief, as it was announced earlier, but due to 'various reasons', as ANFA statement read, the national league looked like never coming. For that at least, ANFA deserves to be praised – Better late than never.
The National League is to be played by top 10 teams within the country. And the most interesting concept in it is the introduction of 'Home and Away' games. The idea would sound great to the football romantics, as it also shows some intent on the part of ANFA that football in years to come, would be decentralized. This is one good way to expand the fan base of football, which already faces challenge from cricket fans, to the rural parts too. The bigger the fan base, the more number of youngsters would be trying to learn the game. The bigger the young player base, the better the competition. The better the competition, better would be the players representing the country. In long term, the idea would definitely bring in results, given everything goes the way fans dream of.
The announcement is definitely a move ahead from the status quo. This is one plan that aims to include clubs from outside the valley, make football more democratic. But there are several questions that spring up to the mind, even before championship is yet to be held.
The problem is, hardly much goes the way fans dream of, especially in Nepali football. In this plan too, there is every likelihood that it may not. Although a step in the right direction, 'Home and Away' is a tough management issue. It means more responsibility, more delegation of authority within the football governing body, and a challenge to bring in spectators to the stadium. The quality and the conditions of stadia out of the valley are not hidden from anyone. While many are used as grazing spot for uncared domestic animals, others are used for political purposed round the year. We cannot forget how many matches were played at the Dashrath stadium in Shahid Smarak League last time, and what became of the standard of game once the grass started to refuse to resurface, fearing pounding from boots round the clock, for weeks on end. The other question is  - How many teams have their own grounds to make it 'Home and Away'? Perhaps you don't even need to answer that.
Apart from the issue of the grounds, to manage National league, on the format that ANFA has promised, ANFA needs to restructure. The opaque working style and highly centralized character of the game's governing body is an impediment to make the game decentralized, and expanding its base. More and more people need to be involved in the decision making process, if we want to see 'smarter' decisions.
ANFA has kept the budget at 37.5 million, which looks like a little less money, given what it wants to achieve. The football fanatics fear that ANFA may say tomorrow that money wasn't enough to meet all the objectives stated.
But then, are we going to forgive it?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who cares... Of course!!!

A lot of murky water has passed under the bridges near Pashupatinath, since the South Asian Games got over, where Nepali athletes did a creditable job of bagging the most number of gold medals in the Games played outside the country.
Nepal finished fifth, while aiming to finish fourth among the 8 nations that participated in what is normally labeled as India's medal bagging sports jamboree. Yet, one man – all of 6 feet minus a couple of inches – from Nepal, towered over all of them, for a small matter of collecting his 4th gold medal, in as many editions of the Games.
Honestly, before the games began, yours truly felt, it was beyond this man's capability to collect this coveted gold. He thought, this man, who goes by the name of Deepak Bista, was past his prime, and what more, he was too involved in players' politics to have real prospects. One had to consider that this 33-year old bachelor had too many niggles in his body to contest, let alone beat the others to claim the top spot.
However, yours truly was happy, and also had a sense of pride, to eat his own words, when Bista collected the gold, and made SAG his own domain.
But then, one fact that always worried his fans before the Games actually began, of him carrying an injury, has escaped many as the medal was brought home. The fact, that he requires an immediate medical attention.
Deepak needs a surgery on his knees and that would require some money, more than this bloke with humble beginnings from Raikwar Bichawa VDC in Far Western Nepal, can boast of. Despite having a collection of medals in his room, Deepak would need some support to bear the expenses. However, authorities, who boast of controlling sports in the country – while they should actually be managing it – are yet to come up with any plan to help for Nepal's most decorated sportsman.
And, while a number of political outfits have tried to gain cheap publicity by throwing felicitations on the players, the head of the government or the head of the state have yet to manage time to meet the medal winners at the South Asian Games.
PS : Yours truly was inspired to write this bit, on sports, after a long long gap, after having a chat with KTV Sports reporter Bishnuhari Ghimire, who is otherwise famous as Harry, The Reporter...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Times they are a' changin...

The government today announced that the office of President of Nepal will be outsourced to India as of March 29th‚ 2010 (coinciding intentionally with birthday of yours truly).
The statement said that the move is being made in order to save the president's salary‚ and also a result of billions of rupees in deficit expenditures, mostly managed coolly by the ever-donating-to-the-party-cadres Prime Minister, and other non-related overhead that the PMO and ministerial cabinet has incurred during meetings held over past 6 months, on how to save the government in case Mr. Koirala restarts adoring his daughter.
"We believe this is a wise financial move. The cost savings are huge‚" stated the Finance Minister, who's also considering getting an Indian voter's card with new-learnt tricks of govern-minting. "We cannot remain competitive on the world stage with the current level of cash outlay‚" Mr. Minister.
President Yadav, who went to India today itself, to meet a horde of other Yadavs, in a non-family reunion, was informed by email this morning of his termination. According to a higly-placed source, who shall here remain nameless and would have remained jobless – if he did not have right political contacts, preparations for the job move have been underway for some time.
Surinder Singh‚ who's a tele-operator for some non-descript call center in Mumbai, or maybe some other city, in India‚ will assume the office of President. Mr. Singh was born in Nepal, while his Indian parents were vacationing at Davies' Falls‚ in Pokhara‚ and fell to the temptation of increasing the family size there itself. According to the yet-to-be formulated citizenship law, his birth roots, and not dental, makes him eligible for the position. Mr. Singh shall be working from his call center itself, in Mumbai or wherever he is, and would not be occupying the Presidential Palace near a hospital.
However, he will receive a salary of NRs. 1500 a month‚ but of course perk involving covering the entire Nepali capital in a never ending traffic jam and security personnel running around to make him feel good at all times, even when he's teleconferencing with the Indian political leaders. Government has said that it would also help on reducing the ever increasing phone bills of the Nepal government, which are imperative since ministers can't function without the orders from the other side of the border.
Mr. Singh issued a statement, moments ahead of his nomination saying he always wanted to be a president, ever since he lost an election of his mohalla ('tole' in Nepali) teen club in his earlier days. His statement, symbolically written, read : "WTF!!!"
In a telephone conversation with yours truly, he said that the time difference in both the countries, that of 15 minutes, will help him work for both the institutions, that of Nepal government, and his call center. However, yours truly suspected he was talking about the difference of 57 years in Nepali Calender and the Global Calender.
Another highly placed source, similar to that of the previous one, told yours truly that Mr. Singh may not be fully aware of all the issues involved in heading the federal state of Nepal, that should not be a problem as none of the other heads of state we had had ever been familiar with the issues either.
Meanwhile, the move has unilaterally been welcomed by the opposition party, namely the Maoists, headed by Mr. Fierce One, or Mr. Awesome, whichever scares you. Their single line welcome statement read: "We always supported the notion of President heading the government as well as state, the full executive President. Since he's from India, we won't have doubts or any problems negotiating with him."
In a separate development, sources close to the President-in-transition-or-in-translation informed that Mr. Yadav has been reported to be seeking consultancy from some company sending people to Qatar for work in some under paying company or a water-free ride to desert to take care of camels, whichever finds them first.
Disclaimer: The writer of this news story, does not claim any responsibility of its factual correctness, and all blame should go to the reader of the post, whether they want to trust it or not...