Leaving on a prayer

Published On: August 3, 2016 12:45 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Nepal at Rio Olympics
If your dream is to be a successful Olympian, South Asia would be among the worst places on the planet to be born into. The eight SAARC member countries, the home to one in five people on earth, didn’t win a single gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. With the exception of India (two bronze, four silver) and Afghanistan (one bronze), the six other countries did not win a medal of any kind. Historically, too, the Olympic record of every SAARC country has been woeful. This is one way to make sense of Nepal’s habitual under-achievement in Olympics. The country’s athletes have up until now participated in 12 summer and four winter Olympics since the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. In these 52 years the country has not won any medals, with the exception of Bidhan Lama who won a bronze in taekwondo in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But since taekwondo was an exhibition sport back then, his medal is not recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Yes, with all the top athletes in the world competing at the Olympics, winning a medal is extremely hard. But it would be nice to see our athletes at least compete.

The expectations from the seven athletes who will represent Nepal at the 31st Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are so low that forget winning, judo player Phupu Lhamu Khatri—the South Asian Games gold medalist and the player entrusted with carrying Nepali flag at the opening ceremony of Rio games on August 5th—has been promised a hefty reward by Nepal Judo Association if she can last full five minutes against her opponent in her first match in Rio. How can she be expected to compete, one might credibly ask, when she was not even aware she would be a part of the Olympics until two months ago? But even if she had more time to prepare, she would have had no good place to practice. The crammed practice arena of the association at Dashrath Stadium in Kathmandu is now also crumbling. Nor does Khatri have access to quality coaching. Coaching standards are so dismal that a few Nepali coaches have been found to have been unaware of the latest rule changes in international sports meets. Alternately, consider the plight of our swimmers—and there are two of them in the current Nepali squad for Rio—who can’t practice for half the year because there are no heated swimming pools for winter months.

If we can’t even get these basics right, why send our athletes to international competitions at all? It would be much wiser to clean up the mess at home first. The National Sports Council (NSC), the sports governing body in the country, has been turned into a political football, its administrators chopped and changed as befits the political parties in power. The leadership of Nepal Olympic Committee (NOC), the official IOC affiliate in the country, meanwhile, is now being contested in a court of law. In fact, all sports governing bodies in Nepal—from NOC to NSC to cricket’s CAN to football’s ANFA—are undermined by their rampant politicization, as they have all been reduced to recruiting  grounds for political cadres. So the point here is not that we should strive to win this number of gold or silver medals. The first goal, in our view, should be to inject our moribund sports governing bodies with a heavy dose of professionalism.

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