Gaurika Singh in Rio 2016
Gaurika Singh, 13-year old Nepali swimmer, has been making headlines around the world. As the youngest swimmer at Rio Olympics 2016, she won her heats in 100m backstroke and made all of us proud. She has become a household name in Nepal today and she will continue to inspire girls and boys beyond our borders. We believe this will not be her last appearance at the Olympics. Her best days are ahead. News of Gaurika’s powerful presence in Rio is meaningful for Nepal because it comes at a time when Nepali sports is hopelessly mired in corruption and is being used as a political playground. Sports bodies like Cricket Association of Nepal and Nepal Olympic Committee are often in dispute. Given the lack of infrastructure and proper mechanisms for regular training at home whatever little Gaurika achieved in Rio de Janeiro is a matter of celebration for Nepalis at home an abroad. We have no doubt that she will continue to be Nepal’s star when it comes to swimming events in the world stage. Gaurika is a perfect example of how persistent training, exposure and early investments can do to a young aspiring athlete. We cheer for her.
Gaurika’s outstanding performance in Rio, however, should prod the sports authorities and the government to reflect on our shortcomings. First of all, Nepal does not have proper infrastructure and supporting mechanisms to train and expose our players at international levels. Gaurika lives in the UK and undergoes regular trainings there. Second, Nepal’s participation in the Olympics and other international sports events is often dominated by “officials” rather than the athletes. It is rather discouraging to note that of about four dozens of Nepali delegates participating in Rio, only seven members are players. We have never understood the purpose of such jumbo team of officials at the cost of providing better facilities and resources to competing players. Besides, Nepali officials tend to take the players for granted. For example, several players were stranded in Kakarvitta of eastern Nepal after the 2016 South Asian Games when the officials left the players to come via road while they travelled by airplane.
Gaurika is the youngest player among 10,000 plus athletes in Rio. She holds 10 national records under her belt including seven in individual events. The girl, who started competing in the national level swimming competition at the age of 11 during the 19th National Swimming Championship held two years ago, has already set national records 30 times. This is no small feat. Sports has served us as a unifying symbol despite several political and ideological differences, more so during the unsettling times like these. Nepal’s love for sports and the players is no secret. When Nepali men football team won the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in January and the South Asian Games men’s football in February, there was national celebration. It brought all of us together. With proper investments in sports sector and proper incentives to the players who have made Nepal known to the world, our sports can become even more vibrant in the days to come. All that we need to do is identify the gems like Gaurika and provide them all the support, from whatever means possible.