Saturday, January 22, 2011

Where are the youngsters?

Less than a fortnight ago, Pashupati Paneru reclaimed the men's singles title at the Krishna Mohan Memorial Badminton Championship. The title got him richer by half a hundred thousand rupees, which is not bad for a singles event in Nepal.
But that's not the point. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru was a lost face in Nepali sports for a while. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru had gone to USA, looking for greener pastures. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru is back. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru is back with a bang.
Even greater point is that the shuttler in question here remained out of competitive badminton for 3 years and came back to win a national level championship without much competition. (He won the final in straight sets)
Now that does not speak well for our sports sector.
Paneru is not the first national level sportsman that took a trip to a foreign land, in search of better life. Nor will he be the last one. For, sportsmen, like us, are human beings. Apart from professional success, like us, they want a better life. A life where they don't have to stay awake overnight for water supply… A life where they don't have to wait for electricity for hours on end, just to be able to watch TV…
Paneru might have his personal reasons for opting out – along with him we'd lost two other badminton players. But when he came back, he was not younger than before. For any player in mid-30s, it's not easy to make a comeback (Remember, Nepali sportsmen hide their age by at least a couple of years). Of course, there are some super human players who shine well past the age others hang up their boots. But we can't forget that for every Sachin Tendulkar that amazes analysts, there are Suresh Rainas and Keiron Pollards, who nudge the podium for others to step aside. Yes, there are stalwarts in every game. But there are budding stars too. And Pashupati Paneru is no superman, although he's a fine talent, even maybe among the best that we've had.
The sad thing is, the apparent dearth of talent can be seen in other sports too. Tashi Tsering, the Manang Marshyangdi star, was named the best player in recently concluded British Gorkha Cup football. Tashi is hardly a newcomer. He's on the other side of mid-30s (he doesn't even lie about it), and possibly holds less prospect of playing for Nepal than a rookie who's just entered his club and is in 20s.
Both the cases create a noise that some of us might choose to ignore. Paneru's win and Tashi's achievement demand celebration, but they also serve us a notice. A notice that we're not witnessing the budding heroes. A notice that those who will push the game forward, the youngsters, are not visible. And they should also serve as a warning: Is our talent pool is drying up?
Hats off, to both the stalwarts for proving their mettle. Their love for their games show that hard work pays. And also brings success. But it also raises a question: Where is the competition?
This is one question our sports authorities should ignore at their own peril. What will they do, if the talent pool dries up? What will they manage?
Over the years, a lot has been said on building sports academies and sustaining sports. But sadly, this has not been happening. The sparse crowd at most major competitions, barring a few, shows that we don't have much youngsters taking up to sports. The dwindling fan base should be a cause of worry, for the fan base ensures the competitors take up to the arena, with a dream to light it up.
While lauding the success of Pashupati Paneru and Tashi Tsering, we should also try to think, who would we applaud, 5 years from now?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A fan's wishlist for 2011

Abraham Lincoln once said, “And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.” As a year comes to an end, and another starts, it's time to take stock of the year gone by, and a time to figure out what we want in another that has just started.
For sports fans, it's always about how many trophies their teams win, rather than how many matches they play. One bronze medal in Asian Games, added to a fifth place finish in South Asian Games is not what Nepali fans dream of. They want more, especially when Afghanistan, the latest entrant to SAG is breathing down our neck.
So what would a sports fan wish for, in the coming year? Brighter medal tallies, more efficient sport management and teams that would scare the opposition? 11 items from the wishlist of a sport fan for 2011:
-          We would like to see more Deepak Maharjans, for they represent the kind of professionals we need. Quiet, tongue-tied, but efficient in the punches they deliver at a boxing ring. We'd rather not have the boisterous players, promising more than they could deliver. Additionally, we would not mind having more Dipak Bistas, although that's a rare commodity winning us four gold medals at SAG, as long as they don't let their tongues work ahead of their brain.
-          We would like to see a Sports Minister, who would like to work with the sport officials, and not against them, using whims as a policy. We would rather like to see them making policies, which help the players and the game than leading contingent at multi-national events.
-          We would like to see an end to the rivalry between National Sports Council and Nepal Olympic Committee. Both are expected to help the sports sector flourish and despite knowing their rivalry is helping other countries bag more medals, they've gone about their way. It would be nice to see members from both the sides thinking for sports, together.
-          We would like the Finance Minister to release budget on time, for the players suffer when they don't get proper facilities. Lack of budget does hamper a player's mentality, just the way it does affect our households.
-          We would want our sport officials to be respected, as people who think for the players and development of the game. For now, the players - even while talking to journalists - use the unmentionables, when they have to refer to any sport official.
-          We would like the Supreme Court verdict which said, sports associations do not need registration under National Sports Council, to be honoured and implemented. It has the potential to open the doors for modernization of Nepali sports. The sport associations do not need control regime.
-          We would like to hear the news that sport officials were awarded for their honesty and integrity. We would like to see them working for the upliftment of the game, if that's not too much to ask for.
-          We would like to see more spectators in the stadium during the football league. Somehow the stadium being filled is either limited to folklores now, or the international matches, which is rare already.
-          We would like to see the ANFA president Ganesh Thapa, to delegate some authority, especially now that he might become Vice-President of Asian Football Council. We would like him at the helm for his developmental work, and not the goals he used to score in late 80s and very early 90s.
-          We would like to have a cricket coach that can better the records of Roy Dias, who brought Nepali cricket to international notice. We need someone who gets players' respect, carries on where Dias left and not reinvent the wheel again.
-          And finally, at least some from us would like to see Sachin Tendulkar scoring his 60th Test match century this year, for the simple reason that he's born to do that.
Impossible dreams? But then, that's the liberty fans have, of demanding too much… And what a day it would be, if we get to see all of them fulfilled.