27 December 2011

Best fans in the world?

Photo courtesy of NepalSportsPhoto
Despite Nepal’s ineptitude in international sport, it is amazing how passionate Nepali sports fans are. There was no better demonstration of this than in the beginning of December (2011) when simultaneously  Nepal’s National Cricket and Football Teams were participating in the ACC Twenty20 Cup and the SAFF Championship respectively.

The TU Cricket Ground was packed to the brim for each one of Nepal’s cricket matches and thousands of Nepalis made their way to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India to root for Nepal’s Football Team. While thousands of fans at sporting events is nothing out of the ordinary, the greater context of these events would suggest otherwise.

The ACC Twenty20 Cup is a tournament for Asia’s cricketing minnows. In a day and age when even Test sides struggle to draw healthy crowds, for tens of thousands of fans to cram into the TU Cricket Ground, an absolute bare bones stadium, for matches against obscure opponents is impressive.

Similarly the SAFF Championship is a tournament for the weaklings of international football (i.e. South Asian nations). Attendance for the 2011 edition of the tournament was abysmal, the one bright spot being the Nepali contingent at all the Nepal matches. At least in the group stages, Nepali fans even outnumbered those of the host nation - India.

All this is nothing new. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch Nepali athletes and teams across the globe and seen the passion of Nepali sports fans on many occasions. Here are but a few examples:

1997 SAFF Cup (Kathmandu)
Dasharath Rangasala had an overflowing crowd of around 30,000 for the finals of the tournament, a match which did not even feature Nepal. India and Maldives were the finalists.

1998 Asian Games (Bangkok)
There were dozens of fervent Nepali fans at the Karate and Taekwondo events, more than any other nation except for the hosts Thailand.

1999 AFC Asian Olympic Qualifiers (Hong Kong)
Thousands of Nepali fans attended Nepal’s three matches at the Hong Kong Stadium. They outnumbered locals in the match against Hong Kong. In one of the most infamous events in Asian Soccer, hundreds of Nepali supporters invaded the pitch and then chased and beat-up Malaysian players after a Malaysian player became aggressive against a Nepali player.

2006 AFC U16 Championship (Singapore)
Nearly 2,500 Nepalis attended each one of Nepal’s matches in this youth competition. The non-Nepal games were lucky to even draw 500 fans. The Nepal-Singapore match drew a greater number of Gorkhalis than Singaporeans.

2008 Prime Ministers Cup (Kathmandu)
Virtually every game was packed in this meaningless football tournament where foreign teams disguised as Senior National Teams (ONLY IN NEPAL!) participated. The final match between Nepal and Sri Lanka saw ticketless fans climb trees and scale to the rooftops to catch a glimpse of the action.

2008 AFC Presidents Cup Qualifiers (Kuala Lumpur)
Hundreds of Nepali fans, most of them laborers with little disposable income, showed up to watch Nepal Police Club’s three matches in a tournament that was not marketed at all. AFC staff at the tournament were in shock as they did not expect any fans to turn up as the matches were supposed to be a closed doors affair.

These examples beg the question – are Nepalis the best sports fans in the world? Just imagine how much fan support we would bring if our athletes and teams actually had a good shot at winning something!