02 June 2018

Regional cups sustaining Nepali football both nationally and locally

In the absence of top-level league competitions for the past three years, regional cup competitions such as the Nepalgunj Gold Cup have been crucial in sustaining Nepali football in this period.

Along with its sister tournaments in Pokhara, Dharan, Butwal, Biratnagar, Birtamod, Simara and elsewhere, the Nepalgunj Gold Cup is providing much needed matches and money to football stakeholders including national level players, coaches, referees and clubs whose livelihoods and operations have been severely jeopardized by the shutdown of league competitions.

The regional cups are also a major boon to local football. For fans - they bring celebrated clubs and players and high standard of matches, which are mostly concentrated in Kathmandu, to different corners of the country. For players - they provide a platform to compete against the top talents and clubs in the country. For administrators - it gives them experience in organizing tournaments and looking after the matches, logistics, sponsorship and marketing that come along with it.

Furthermore, if well run, the regional cups can raise quite a bit of revenue which ideally should be ploughed back into local football. For example, Sahara Club Pokharas impressive training centre was built on the profits of the Aaha! Gold Cup. Hopefully, the Nepalgunj Gold Cup will eventually create a similar legacy, but for now it is already playing a crucial role in supporting football at the national and local levels.

26 January 2018

Leave sports logos to the professionals

Yielding to highly negative backlash from fans and observers, less than 48 hours after historic English football side Leeds United launched their new club badge they scrapped it.

The irony here is that Leeds United actually claims to have consulted 10,000 people in developing the new badge. I don't doubt it for a moment and there is a valuable lesson here -  something as important as the club badge should be left to professionals and not crowd-sourced!

Having a bit of a sports logo fetish, I have seen this play out many times - where clubs leave badge ideas to their fans and ultimately end-up with a total disaster or if lucky something fairly average.

One of the worst examples of logos-gone-wild unfortunately happened to the club that I support - Aston Villa. In the late 2000's they developed their new badge based on a fan survey and the logo turned out to be a total mess. For example they asked something like if supporters preferred "Aston Villa", "Aston Villa FC", "Aston Villa Football Club" or "AVFC" on the club badge. The majority preferred some version of the unique club name but the vote was split three ways among the non-acronym options and AVFC ended up with the highest vote percentage at a mere 30% or so. Thus AVFC made its way onto the badge, an absolute tragedy as one of the most special characteristic of the club is its non traditional name. There are many United's and FC's, but only one Villa! is a popular cry among the club's faithful.

The acronym AVFC was just one of many defects of the crowd-sourced logo. Ask any competent graphic designer and they could identify another dozen flaws with the crest. It's one reason I have refused to purchase a Villa kit for nearly a decade.
The new Villa badge and the recently updated version (right)

A few years later Aston Villa spent GBP 80,000 to alter the faulty badge. It's still pretty poor. Hopefully the club management will do a proper update soon. (UPDATE:  Villa changed their crest in 2023)

On the other hand, despite early criticism from traditionalists, sports organizations like Juventus and Big Ten Conference developed new identities that were masterpieces through collaborations with leading design and branding firms Interbrand and Pentagram respectfully. Amazing the results you can achieve when you hire competence.

14 January 2018

Don't expect EPL T20 clone in football

Crowd at EPL finals at TU Ground. Photo courtesy of Udipt Singh Chhetry
By all accounts the Everest Premier League T20 tournament was a grand success. It saw good crowds, a strong stable of sponsors and formidable media interest. Moreover it had buzz. My Facebook timeline would be filled with posts from friends and acquaintances discussing the tournament. Even my buddies, who well know I am not a cricket aficionado, were texting me about the the ongoing action including  the peripheral "cricketainment", as event organizer Aamir Akhtar puts it, around the event.

For sports enthusiasts like myself, the EPL T20  showed that there is the capacity in Nepal to run a well marketed and fan friendly sports event. Hats off to the organizers.

So could we expect something similar in football perhaps?

At the local level tournaments such as the Aaha Gold Cup in Pokhara and the recent Khaptad Gold Cup in Dhangadhi do bring excitement to their localities, but the entertainment quotient is not quite up to par and these competitions lack national appeal. The onus to create something similar to the EPL T20 in football thus lies either with ANFA, the governing body of football in Nepal, or an entrepreneurial person or two from the private sector.

ANFA has failed to organize a top level league for the past 3 years, so certainly there is little hope in expecting them to do anything anytime soon. That then leaves the private sector.

Unfortunately, unlike its cricket brethren Cricket Association Nepal (CAN) that is dysfunctional, toothless, and currently suspended, ANFA is only dysfunctional. Toothless and suspended it is not and there lies the challenge.

Through its former president Ganesh Thapa, who essentially governs the national body by proxy and through family members embedded in the organization, ANFA maintains strong political links domestically which it continues to exploit to implement its nefarious modus operandi. For the past 25 years ANFA's M-O has essentially been to negatively disrupt any football initiatives that are not directly organized by itself. It is a case of "afoo pani nagarni, aroo lai pani garna nadini" (Not doing it yourself and not letting anyone else do it either).

A few of the bright spots in local football such as the proliferation of futsal courts is due its rapid rise blindsiding the football authorities or else futsal's growth may have also been derailed.

Ultimately, one can expect that any attempt to hire a ground, secure sponsors and develop media partnerships for an EPL T20 style football league being sabotaged by ANFA and its nexus, thus is the sad reality of football in Nepal.