The 13th South Asian Games (SAG), which concluded on Tuesday, has given Nepal many reasons to celebrate but this is also the moment for the country to reflect on where we have failed to give proper boost to sports sector, if we are to maintain this progress record and if we are to make this sector shine further in the future. SAG was an important event for Nepal and South Asia as a whole. It was an event to consolidate solidarity among member countries at a time when the larger purpose of SAARC process has taken a backseat due, mainly, to differences between Pakistan and India, two of the largest nations in South Asia. The SAG proved that despite differences the member countries can still stand together, compete with each other and achieve excellence through fair means. As the country that won the largest number of golds, India probably has more reckoning to do about revitalizing the SAARC process.
For Nepal, SAG proved to be even more important. In terms of medal count, Nepal stood second to India but on the whole Nepali athletes and players performed much better than expected. This time around Nepal has broken many previous records. We have secured total of 206 medals including 51 golds. Besides, many Nepali players won hearts and minds of Nepali people with their excellent performance, some breaking their previous records. Gaurika Singh emerged as the first Nepali athlete to win four gold medals. Likewise, Santoshi Shrestha became the first female Nepali runner to win a 10,000 meters gold in athletics, Kiran Singh Bogati won a marathon gold for the first time in 24 years, Sangita Dhami became the first Nepali wrestler to win an international medal in wrestling and Minu Gurung became the first Nepali female boxer to win a gold medal. In the most watched event of Wednesday, Nepal achieved victory over Bhutan in men’s football. This is no mean feat for the country where sports sector is largely mired in corruption and where institutional arrangements for providing regular training to the players and the infrastructure needed for that purpose are not adequate enough. This is no small feat for Nepal. Hearty congratulations to all the players who brought fame for the country!
Indeed, these are the times for celebration and government ministers as well as people in general are showering praises on Nepali athletes. Meanwhile, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has announced nine hundred thousand rupees, six hundred thousand rupees and three hundred thousand rupees for the winners of gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively. This sounds like a good incentive but this alone does not contribute to bettering the games in the future. Nepal needs to begin by upgrading sports infrastructure on a regular basis, not only during or on the eve of sports events, as has become the norm. Besides, the state needs to create enabling environment for the sportspeople to make their ends meet even by solely concentrating on sports. Such an environment is lacking at the moment. Most of all, we need to free our sports governing bodies from corruption and politicization. Nepali players have sent the message that they can do the country proud even while playing without all the support they need. They have also sent the message that given the best possible environment, they can perform even more excellently in the days to come. The onus is on the state actors to create conducive environment for them to excel further.