Saturday, June 25, 2011

Olympic spirit: Did we not lose it?

More than 200 countries – 205 in theory – marked the Olympic day on June 23rd. The day has significance in history as it was the same day in the year 1894, when International Olympic Committee was formally established.

As every National Olympic Committees marked the day, their focus was the slogan – Sports for Everyone. Only we, perhaps, marked it without getting the message. For us, it was not for everyone. That has to be exactly the reason why there were two Olympic Committees organizing their own program in two different places. While one chose birthplace of Buddha, the other one chose the capital (as if Buddha was against unity).

If you find it astonishing, you’re in for more shock. Two of our best known sportspersons, and the only players we have produced so far to get ‘qualified’ for an Olympic event, were not the part of celebrations. Yes, Deepak Bista and Sangina Baidya were not present in either of the programs. And why would they? After all, they would not like to be linked with yet another controversy. And which celebration would they choose to attend? They’re affiliated to National Sports Council and would not like to go against what their bosses say.

Now this does not make Bista and Baidya baddies. For they must be as confused as anyone else. For they would have enjoyed being a part of Olympic Day Run as anyone else. For they have contributed to Nepali sport as anyone else, maybe with more glory. Talk to Bista on the topic and he finds it difficult to talk about it (could not talk to Sangina on the issue). For he would not know what exactly to say about not attending the program.

It was the moment the whole Olympic movement was shamed, by the officials who have none of it.

In moments like these, you feel perhaps it is good that Pierre de Coubertin, the person known as father of Modern Olympics is no more. For he started the Olympic movement thinking it would bring world peace. He saw value in the ancient practice of a sacred truce during the ancient Olympic Games, thinking it might have modern implications, and the modern Olympics would have a role in promoting peace. Was he wrong in doing that? Anyone can answer that.

But here we are, trying to prove him wrong. World Peace may be buried deep under the sea, for we cannot even make peace to organize one program together. A common sports fan would like to question: What does it take to let ego go, for common good? Logic behind legitimacy may be secondary; development of the sports should be the primary agenda. And that does not look like happening here.

American President Barack Obama, during his pitch to bid for Olympics in Chicago had said: “[We] reach for a dream - a dream that no matter who we are, where we
come from; no matter what we look like or what hand life has dealt us; with hard work, and discipline and dedication, we can make it if we try. That’s not just the American dream. That is the Olympic Spirit. It’s the essence of the Olympic Spirit.”

Chicago may not have won the bid to host 2016 Olympics, but words expressed cannot be taken lightly. The Olympic spirit is the basis of motto of Olympic movement - Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger). And we fail to get there, as we continue fighting among ourselves.

The Olympic spirit is neither the property of one race nor of one age. But it brings, and has to – for everybody’s good – people from all races ethnicities together. Without that, there is no point in claiming to have that spirit.

(PS: This write up appeared in a weekly column of yours truly in The Kathmandu Post, OFF-SIDE, on 25th June, 2011)

(The picture displayed above was taken from and writer does not claim any rights over the picture)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Change in Guards at NSC: Will it be change of attitude?

The National Sports Council has a new head. Former Karateka Yuvraj Lama has made a comeback into the field of sports, after a gap of almost two decades, as the most powerful (potentially) person in Nepali sports – The Member Secretary of National Sports Council (NSC). Following his appointment, many a person were found asking, why is he back? Or what can he give back to sports?
Being able to talk to him the day he took office, I, too, was bound to ask him – Why? But Lama, as anybody who takes up such a post should be, appeared prepared. He tells you he’s presented a working plan to the party leadership. Party leadership? The question may amuse many. But that’s the way cookie crumbles here. Member Secretary of NSC, like in many other institutions that ought to be autonomous, is a political appointment.
As any sports buff would see it, the challenges are many for Lama. There’s a small matter of preparation for South Asian and Olympic Games that are to be held in 2012, along with administrative challenges of running the organization that’s ill-funded, overstaffed (lack of right person at right job) and often acts as a headless chicken in its own ways. Add to that Nepal’s preparations for hosting the South Asian Games in 2014. Now managing that would be a tough nut to crack even for a martial artist. To top that, he has another arduous and unenviable task of pleasing the party that has sent him to the job, especially as some of its cadres voiced their reservations on his appointment.
Now we can’t forget that Lama was the person who had said his good bye to the field of sports. If you believe insiders of the game, he left it because there was no ‘future’ in the field. He took up the filmdom, as a filmmaker and actor during the gap. Some go on criticizing that his films did not do well and hence he landed in sports again. One may choose to agree or disagree with the statement, depending upon their loyalty. But what the former Karate coach can do is use his knowledge from the field of glamour to improve the image of sporting institutions. The villain on the silverscreen could become a hero off it.
In most countries that are taken as successful in sports, glamour is an integral reason for its popularity among masses. What it does is bring in people to the sports arena, consolidate the fan base as well as sport aspirants, thereby enriching the sector. More the competition, better are the results in international stage. And here, we could do with some glamour in the field. After all, how many sport stars do we see as brand ambassadors of products or social causes? Can be counted in fingers, without needing both hands... Compare it to the Bollywood stars hogging limelight during sport events like IPL. Who takes away the limelight is not a question. What it does to the masses is more important for us.
The other thought that is perhaps disturbing Lama, sports enthusiasts and the sports journos is: How long is he going to be in the hot seat? In all likelihood, the government should change sooner than later. That would mean change in guards again at the NSC (tradition, after all!). Will Lama be able to even table his work plan and start the sports academy or sports college (as he calls it)? Or even if it’s tabled, will his successors (which is bound to happen given the nature of the post), implement it? Will he be able to change the attitude of sports sector or the political leadership that governs it? These perhaps are the questions that need answers. As long as they are not, Yuvraj Lamas would come and go, we’d still be complaining.
One thing that he can definitely do, is make some visible changes to the website of NSC – It still shows Jeevan Ram Shrestha as the Member Secretary of NSC. With due respect to Shrestha, he gave up the post almost two years ago.
(This write-up appeared in weekly column of Yours Truly 'OFF-SIDE' in The Kathmandu Post on 18th June 2011)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Opportunities waiting, will we cash?

Just a few days before we enjoyed the high-voltage drama for extension of Constituent Assembly tenure on most national TV channels, we ignored a small matter of one A division Football Club's plight of not finding sponsors. Needless to say, the club was not from the valley that is hub to everything that matters in the country, be it political frictions, sporting actions or financial transactions.
The plight of the club went mostly unheeded, except for a few sympathetic journos, who got a few more bylines in print. Interestingly, this is not the only club that is facing financial crunch. With the football season at full swing, most clubs are facing the heat, as expenses are rising and incomes fall short. We knew its possibility, but failed take action on time. An opportunity missed.
But what would you expect, as the National Sports Council – the apex Sports body in the country – itself is incomplete. The Joint Secretary from Ministry of Sports (and not Member-Secretary) heads it on ad-hoc basis. The Board at NSC has not been formed as it awaits political appointments. The present government is 4 months old and will be, in most likelihood, replaced by another one, anytime soon. And as a norm, first few weeks of the government never has sport in its To-do list. It's not difficult to know what will happen of NSC, whose patron – The Prime Minister – himself is counting days in power. Another opportunity missed.
Flashback to 2008: Just before the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the sport aficionados were excited that most major parties had included sports in their election manifestos. The fanatics started dreaming. Two plus years later, the National Games was deferred, since Dhangadhi was not readied on time to host the event. That was supposed to be early this year. Despite deferral, no new date was announced. We had more important things to do. Yet another opportunity missed.
As we stand in the middle of 2011, another year – another set of opportunity - is waiting. The year 2012. The year of Olympics. The year of 12th South Asian Games. These would require preparation. Even if the preparation doesn't start now, the planning will have to be started now. In the 11th South Asian Games, in Dhaka, Nepal just nudged ahead of Afghanistan by 2 gold medals. It should be noted that Bhutan and the Maldives did not get any medal. Slackness in planning could mean that we'd be the last one among gold medal winners. Will the opportunity be missed?
Another issue that many have yet to talk about, given our habit of last minute preparations, is the 13th South Asian Games. It is Nepal's turn to host the event in 2014. And the question would be: Are we ready for it?
If the engineers from NSC are to be believed (and who else are to be believed here), our sport infrastructure are accidents waiting to happen. Apart from few cosmetic changes in 1999 South Asian Games, we've not had any renovation of the infrastructure. Even if we do not build new stadia for the next SAG, major overhaul of infrastructure would be necessary. This is the second decade of 21st century and even technology has progressed by leaps and bounds in the sector. Improvement of the facilities is but mandatory. We've had enough fun complaining while watching Indian media reports on 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Could it be our turn to be laughed at?
Here, we could do well to remember recent corruption scandal in FIFA. They were centered around which country is the World Cup awarded to. Explains, why countries attach so much of pride with multi-nation sporting events. Needless to say what it does to the economic growth of the nation. That's the stuff economists and planners to look at. The politicos, who talk of national pride at the bat of an eyelid, perhaps should know the value of it.
And unless the planners believe in Mayan prophecy that the world would end by December, 2012, they better not procrastinate. After all, how many opportunities can we miss?
(The write-up was published in the weekly column of Yours Truly in The Kathmandu Post on 11th June, 2011)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Royal story: A decade and counting…

The story begins in 2001…

The information:
Yours truly got a call just a couple of hours after midnight from a friend. You never feel good getting a call before dawn, unless you're in your prime teenage. The phone ring is always eerie (mobile phones were not in the range of entry-level job holders then), if you've just hit the best part of the sleep. And it was a male friend. Nothing friendly about the call, no greetings exchanged. A shock: "Did you hear about what happened at the palace?" Now you don’t expect a Royal palace to be a topic of ice breaker, that too, at such a time.
That's enough to dispel thoughts about your friend being lunatic, because he's a fellow journalist. Journalism is a serious business. A year into journalism – that too in the country's best read English daily – makes you feel that you have to be an expert on whatever happens in the known universe (although I was primarily supposed to be know-all in Sports). The news was sketchy and we did not really figure out at the moment that we were talking of a massacre. The sleep, that had started only a few hours ago was nowhere in sight. After all, it was an issue about the Royals. And then you think, you were near the place of incident (Thamel), only a few hours ago. "How did I miss something then?", a question makes rounds in your head. No answers.
More phone calls in the coming hours and complete silence on state-run TV and radio, tells you a story. A story you never imagined. The whole family – the chair, the heir and those who were probably not in the power scheme – is gone, brutally massacred. Not even hopes left. "How can that happen?", you ask yourself. Family members ask you, sitting in front of TV, before dawn – because they too think journalists should know all – "What exactly happened?" No answers again.
In such situation, the numbness grows, and it did. A walk to nearest street after sunrise and you see people confused, some shocked. They are speaking to each other. The tone is still hush-hush. Most newspapers haven't reported it. The ones who have, have only hinted at some violence at the palace. And you think, if I was the editor of the paper, maybe I would've been told everything by the sources high-up. Maybe, or maybe not! Wishes are not horses, not for real.

The realization:
The rumor (till then no official confirmation) had it that the Crown Prince gunned down nine family members, including King Birendra, in a fit of rage. Rage? How bad? No answers yet.
Difficult to understand why it happened. Even more difficult to have a meal. "Wasn't the Crown Prince supposed to watch the Grand rehearsal of preparation for the National Games in the evening today?", you ask yourself. The Games are to start tomorrow, after a grand opening. I've already been given two more fellow reporters by my boss, to cover the whole Games. After all, the Crown Prince is (or was, already) the patron of National Sports Council.
The best place at such times, you think, should be a newsroom. That's where the information should be. You take off for the office. It's a Saturday. Traffic is less but people on the streets are more in number. On the way, you also see some teary eyed women, who probably never saw the glorified Royals, except in pictures or on TV. The calmness of all this is disturbing. Very disturbing. Everybody knows what has happened, but they fear what will happen next.

The work unlike usual:
Stupidity has its own measures. Even when it's immeasurable. After a round of tea (or perhaps, more) with fellow workers at the office, I tell the News Editor (the second-in-command after the Editor), "Looks like National Games won't happen!"
What an announcement! Very intelligent stuff…
Before I even realize the magnitude of my stupidity, he shakes his head and tells me, "Can you help us doing other stuff then?" Humbled with his magnanimity, yours truly agrees. And since he does not 'understand' power or politics – being in Sports – mutually both agree that he does stories on those who were not in the power scheme. Prince Nirajan and Princess Shruti – The unfulfilled dreams, or rather, those who'd been slain unnecessarily, shamelessly.
And yes, lest we forget, the National Games have been shelved for now (only to be held some 8 years later).
The work begins, so does the prohibitory orders from the democratically elected government (called curfew). The King is changed over the days. And the official line is: Prince Dipendra, under the influence of drink and drugs killed everyone in his sight at a family dinner at the palace with an automatic weapon. Dressed in military fatigues, Dipendra killed his father, King Birendra (who had ushered in an era of democracy), his mother, brother and sister and five other relatives before gunning down himself.
The times are such; there aren't many takers for the official version.
However, yours truly gets busy with the work, trying to make telephone calls to people associated with the innocent two. With the curfew in place, it's difficult to meet them, and they would not believe you on phone. Why should they? They say they feared their own lives. They perhaps did.
One of the mornings when one of the stories appeared on the paper, a friend calls. Somehow she sounds gloomy and satisfied at the same time (only women can do that): "Did you read a piece on Prince Nirajan in The Kathmandu Post? I feel bad about the man, who had nothing to do with politics, and was killed. I feel worse than the day I heard of the killing."
"Oh really? Who wrote it?", yours truly asked, trying to sound inquisitive. You cannot argue with women, much less their instinct.
"Oh Sh*t. It's you."
No matter how much journalists boast or remain under an illusion that people know their names by heart, yours truly learnt a lesson that day. It's the news that people are interested in, and not who wrote it (despite the names being in bold fonts). A journalist is just a finger pointing towards the moon so that people can see it. Once they see it, you've done your job and lost your importance.

The Follow-up:
The official version has come. The people hardly believe it, despite dramatic performance on state-run TV by the speaker of the parliament. The new King is on the throne. Journalists from International media still hire private cars and cabs to run around the city. A few have left already. The ones that are here try to find romanticism in Maoist insurgency. They teach the by-passers how to give a juicy soundbite (the way it suits their stories), while some local journalists make money tagging along with the international ones (and also gain exposure).
Meanwhile, the people who were confused on the first day, are still confused. They are grieving. Men, en masse go and tonsure their head. The barbers for a while have stopped charging for their service. Among many rallies taken out in grief, yours truly also finds a place (peer pressure) and subsequently gives in to tonsuring. A friend tells him the reason for his own tonsure, "Dandruff problem." It's June heat. No love lost!
The people, the same people, just a decade ago were asking for the head of the same King. At least they wanted this King, and his family, to leave the place. Now everybody is grieving for him and his family, shaving off their head. Those tears are not fake; those are real.
Fast forward – a few days. The tea-stall chatters are not even centered on the slain family. Everybody is talking of the people who are associated with the rituals following cremation. They talk about how much these professional ritual-doers make. What amount? How much gold? How much of Land? The questions are many.
Tells you, like in politics, in life – nothing is permanent. Even grief. Even the loss. Even the crisis. Even the shock. Had heard earlier - The King is dead: Long live the King. Fitting? Still unable to understand.

The Aftermath:
The term 'Mystery' is amazing. Sounding so similar to history, we might as well realize that most incidents in history remain mystery. And true to its nature, mystery still surrounds the massacre that many may argue started the slide of monarchy. A decade from the day, it's not present. Very few of us talk about it in a whole day.
Most of us still think that the report brought out, which was basically a summary of interviews (and not a result of investigation), has not done justice to the scale of the incident. It was the worst massacre after Lenin inspired shooting of the Romanovs in Russia 9 decades ago.
The other stakeholders in the state remained busy with themselves. The Maoists, who had just upped the ante a year ago in their bloody battle, were not going to sit down idly. They saw Indian 'hand' in the episode.  Lack of proper investigation meant conspiracy theories still are rife. Although they sound interesting, none of them are convincing enough. After all, conspiracy theories are meant to be interesting. At the same time, democratically elected government and the lawmakers remained mute. Did they fear their own security? They did not tell us.
But the whole episode definitely removed the aura that the monarchy lived with. Something that was granted to them for past couple of centuries. Neither the King non the Crown Prince post-2001, could live up to the billing of a deity. Suddenly, they were not lord Bishnu's avatar. Amazing so much can happen in one night. That fateful night, along with a family, a myth was killed. The myth that the lord is taking care of the nation and its citizens. The myth was busted, and we are yet to come to terms with it. That we have to take care of the nation ourselves. It has taken a decade, and we're still work-in-progress when it comes to that.
A decade on, the ring that rattled yours truly's sleep that night still haunts him, for we are yet to become our own lords. And he is waiting for another ring, timing notwithstanding, which tells him that everything is well with his nation.
Sadly, the story does not end...

(PS: The above photo was featured in the 'From Our Own Correspondent' section of online edition of BBC following the Royal Massacre in 2001)