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)