15 November 2011

Social Welfare Sports Centre

When I am in Nepal I try my best to visit as many grassroots sports programs across the country as possible. The only problem is that there are really not that many around. An NGO-Foreign Aid-Centralized Government culture has unfortunately created an environment where people have become used to putting their hands out opposed to getting their hands dirty. Thus one can basically count on two hands the organized grassroots sports programs that exist in the country.

Luckily, through the power of Facebook, I was able to connect with the team running a grassroots football program in the Nayabazaar Dhara neighborhood of Kathmandu and paid them a visit on my most recent trip to Nepal.

On reaching the open sandlot where the unconventionally named club – Social Welfare Sports Centre (SWSC) conducts training, I was pleasantly surprised to see full blown youth football training for multiple age groups – and no it was not the “A FIFA Master/ former AFC official is coming to pay us a visit, so let’s quickly put something together to impress him” variety either. This was a legit grassroots program.

SWSC was established by seven teenage friends in 1999 as a way to provide youths in and around Nayabazaar Dhara a diversion to the distractions of the streets. They hoped to achieve this by providing football training which would help keep kids away from mischief.

Eleven years on SWSC is as active as ever: conducting under-12 and under-16 training for neighborhood kids, organizing small sided football tournaments and also through community outreach programs like providing safe drinking water, immunization drives, and assisting local children with school tuition and in garnering scholarships.

SWSC has also made a national impact in football. Several top division football players including Rupesh KC (HSC), Nabin Maharjan (MMC), and Nirajan Shrestha (UYC) are alumni of the club’s youth training setup. Their senior team recently was promoted to the Martyrs League ‘C’ division and just missed out on qualifying for the ‘B’ division, though they will still participate in the national ‘C’ division tournament as a result of their strong showing in the league.

Irrespective of the on-field successes, SWSC officials assert that the club’s greatest accomplishment has been providing an alternative to the drug and gang culture which many youths in Kathmandu gravitate to as a result of disillusionment or boredom. One club representative commented that in Nayabazaar Dhara one can basically separate the disciplined boys from the wayward ones based on who attends football training.

A grassroots sports program that not only has survived, but thrives after nearly a dozen years is a rarity in Nepal. SWSC’s success lies in the fact that along with football training, they also groom their trainees to take on leadership roles in the club. Thus all of the current SWSC Executive Board members, now in their late teens or twenties, were one time football trainees at the club.

SWSC has also been able to muster considerable goodwill from the local community. As an example a local sporting goods manufacturer Wild Sports has sponsored all the club’s match and training kits. On the other hand, despite their achievements, SWSC receives virtually no support from national institutions, including ANFA. Unlike many clubs and projects, SWSC has little political clout and no famous personality in their ranks thus assisting such a club is generally considered a waste of resources for politically driven organizations. Why help a club that offers no votes or short-term financial leverage?

Fortunately, with the explosion of Nepali sports blogs, websites and Facebook pages, SWSC’s story is no longer hidden. They have recently garnered prominent attention on GoalNepal and have made a name for themselves amongst Nepali football fans on Facebook. With their new found exposure, formidable performances in the Martyrs League and well developed club structures, one can expect to hear much more from SWSC in the near future.