27 September 2015

Youth football gaining momentum

I offer my apologies in advance to anyone expecting this blog post to offer jubilation over the success of Nepal’s Under 19 and Under 16 in the SAFF U19 Championship and AFC U16 Championship qualifiers. If you are looking for those types of pieces I would recommend going over to the official ANFA website or GoalNepal to get your fill. A short commentary on Nepal’s youth national teams’ achievements can be found at the bottom of this article.

There is another element of youth football that I would rather focus on and that Nepali football fans should get excited about. It is the emergence of youth football schools and academies across Nepal. In fairness, it is perhaps happening at a pace slower than the ideal, but for a country that was able to wait seven years for a constitution and used to long queues at government offices to petrol pumps, a bit of patience for sports development should be manageable.
Lalitpur Sports Training Center (Pic: LSTC Facebook Page)

Nepal had a futsal revolution and it may well be that it is on the verge of a youth football insurgency. A combination of factors including the proliferation of futsal halls, a growing urban middle class looking for activities for their children and the glamour of football brought on by the Premier League, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have given rise to youth football training centers across Kathmandu Valley and the country.

While Sahara Club, SWSC, MYA and Futsal Arena in Thamel, amongst a few others, were the pioneers on this front, at a recently held youth football workshop that I conducted, a new breed of football schools/academies were in attendance.

They included the hosts of the event, Lalitpur Sports Training Center, which is currently conducting weekend sessions for kids 8 to 14 at the Pulchowk Engineering Campus and hopes to take football training to every corner of Lalitpur district.

There was a group of soccer moms that have started the Kathmandu Kickers training program in Mandikhatar, initially for their own kids, but since open to everyone that meets several criteria including active involvement in the program by parents of the trainees.

Kathmandu Kickers organizers (Pic: KK Facebook Page)
A representative from RC32 Football Academy, a program initiated by national team player Rohit Chand and his brother Rabindra for kids in the Mid-Western city of Surkhet – hardly known for its football prowess, was also there.

The diversity of these training programs, from their geography to proprietors, is a reason for optimism. Youth football programs, once limited to the ANFA Academy, are now much more accessible and also lure talented professionals and volunteers to Nepali football.

With the dearth of structured youth football in the country, producing tangible results for soccer schools/academies is not so difficult. For example, a recent Under-12 national team squad that travelled to Korea Republic featured two players from Oshonik Club of Nepalgunj, a team that only conducts training on weekends. Presuming ANFA selectors are fair in their recruitment, we should easily see players from more of these types of training programs on the youth national team rolls in the near future.

Nepal’s youth national team success

Unfortunately, I cannot get excited about the results produced by Nepal’s youth national teams. We’ve been here before on numerous occasions in the past – Nepal’s juniors apparently producing great results only to later be fined by the AFC for fielding overage players. Until Nepal’s youth national teams are devoid players that have played league football for multiple years before being selected to the junior squads and youth success translates into the senior team winning matches, it is difficult to take Nepal’s youth level results seriously.

My opinion is shared by quite a few Nepali football insiders, but in a country that lacks many legitimate heroes and is desperate for positive news, most of these same people, as would transpire amongst the Roman masses when the Gladiator Games were being held at the Colosseum,  seem to get swept up in the euphoria of the moment. In private they voice their concerns about the legitimacy of the youth teams’ results, though publicly they celebrate the success on Facebook and other outlets. It makes straight shooters like myself come across as a negative minority. So be it.

07 July 2015

An idea to promote local football

ANFA U12 trials

I saw this photo of the kids selected from the ANFA U12 trials and was thinking - why not make a rule that the players that come for the selection have to either wear a Nepal national team or Nepali club jersey. Allow clubs to sell their jerseys right outside the gates of the training field to generate additional income.

At Machhindra FC​ we made it mandatory for all players coming to our open trials to purchase a club jersey as a part of the registration fee. We grossed Rs. 50,000 in revenue from the scheme. MFC ran-out of jerseys during the event and in the end we let a few players join the selection for free and play without a White Lions kit. Surprisingly, those players who were admitted for free and without a jersey were furious. They actually wanted a shirt and were eager to pay the registration fee to get one!

Machhindra FC trials

26 November 2014

Sports in South Asia needs to raise its game

(An edited version of this article originally appeared in Republica)

A short while ago I was asked to write a tribute for a silver medal winning South Asian sportsman for a local organization about to honor him. When doing research for the homage, I stumbled upon a rather peculiar fact that most media members must have missed-out on or chose to ignore. It turns out there were only two people competing in the competition. The silver medal was assured!

Unfortunately, these types of sporting anomalies or lucky breaks, however you want to look at it, are what South Asian sports fans most times must hope for to see their fellow countrymen find a place on the medal podium of major international tournaments.

South Asia’s track record in high level sports is abysmal. A South Asian team has never made the FIFA World Cup and in the past half-century has not come anywhere close to qualifying. After capturing 11 gold medals over the span of 13 Summer Olympic Games, South Asian field hockey sides have failed to even medal for the last 22 years. With 1.7 billion inhabitants, a quarter of the world’s population, Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra is the sole person from the region that can claim an Olympic gold medal in the past 3 decades. In that period, India has won a paltry 3 silver and 8 bronze medals, Sri Lanka 1 silver, Pakistan and Afghanistan 2 bronze each, while Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal have not won a single medal at the Olympics.

Based on per capita, the regions results at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are nothing to boast about either. Thank god for cricket!

12 October 2014

Sports Contribution Award

Immensely honored to receive the Sports Contribution Award from my fellow NRNs. My journey in Nepali sports has been a wonderful adventure, in large part due to the guidance and support of so many friends and well-wishers who are working tirelessly on the ground to help develop sports in Nepal. A massive thank you to them and congratulations to the other honorees.

01 September 2014

Think big money is destroying football? You are in the minority

Pretty much all the Aston Villa
fans you'll find in Kathmandu
As the European football season gets underway and the transfer window closes, every year a slew of articles spring-up chastising the orgy of spending by the big clubs and make dire predictions of fan revolt and how football will be damaged beyond repair by big money.

I say phooey! The fact is the great majority of football fans pretty much support the 10 to 12 super clubs out there. All the minnow sides combined only account for a small minority of fans. A great example of this was a few days back when I attended a gathering of Aston Villa supporters in Kathmandu (I’m a proud Villan!). All together there were 3 of us at the meeting. On my way to the event I probably passed about a dozen people on the street wearing shirts of Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal and the likes.

Other than perhaps a handful of Manchester United fans distraught that Manchester City now has the same financial muscle as them, I doubt it is much of a stretch to say those super club fans are not in any despair about big money in football. On the contrary, fans of clubs like Real Madrid are probably sprinting to a local printing shop to get JAMES printed on the back of their jerseys.