10 February 2013

Futsal revolutionizing Nepali football

Could Nepali football have found its savior? No it is not any visionary football official, ANFA Academy hotshot or fanatical corporate tycoon - and it certainly is not anyone named Graham, Jack or Richard.

Nepal’s football savior might just be the 40 meter X 20 meter artificial turf carpets that are popping up across the country. Within the next six months there will be close to twenty futsal fields in Kathmandu and Pokhara combined.

Futsal Arena at GAA Hall, Thamel
In a country where football development initiatives are rare as a tiger at Chitwan National Park or dubious as the Yeti, the futsal boom is a much-needed boon for Nepali football.

Futsal, a 5-a-side variant of football that is usually played indoors, originated in South America and has helped develop and define Brazilian football. Most Brazilian soccer stars grow-up playing futsal before graduating to the grand form of the beautiful game around age 12 or 13. The brilliant technique, movement and passing Brazilian footballers are admired for is often attributed to the countless hours they spend on futsal courts.

While Nepal is mountains away from becoming the next Brazil in football, futsal certainly seems capable of bringing about a renaissance to Nepali football. What it offers most is that it helps fill the void for many of Nepal’s shortcomings in football.

The lack of playing areas and shortage of tournaments that plagues Nepali football is slowly being cured by the new futsal facilities. Soccer tournaments are now dime-a-dozen and anyone who wants to kick around a ball with friends can go down to their local futsal hall and make a booking.

One futsal court operator estimates that on a given day over 1000 Nepalis are playing futsal. Extrapolate that over a year and you get 365,000 futsal participants, the majority of who would otherwise not be active in any form of football.

With futsal facilities looking for ways to maximize occupancy they have initiated many programs that the national football governing body – ANFA, has long neglected such as football training for young kids and recreational tournaments for the likes of seniors, girls, schools and corporates. The abundance of futsal facilities has even prompted a major international youth football development program to seriously inquire about expanding their business into Nepal.

Grassroots Recreational Center, Mandikhatar

Visit a futsal facility and its impact is abundantly clear. Kids are kicking balls in real life instead of virtually on FIFA 13. Teens are developing techniques they might not have mastered on bigger and more decrepit fields. National team and club players are now staying in shape year round.

Ironically, the one thing that futsal has greatly benefited from is that ANFA, most likely due to their ignorance of the sport, has kept its toxic tentacles at a distance. Futsal entrepreneurs thus have not had to face political and bureaucratic nightmares when constructing their facilities or organizing tournaments which has given them the freedom to be more agile and innovative. In stark contrast to the Aaha Rara Gold Cup or the recently inaugurated Sahara Academy, one will rarely see an ANFA official at a futsal function.

Given Nepal’s copycat business culture - with fairly solid occupancy, profitability and a plethora of football mad businessmen - it is likely that dozens more futsal facilities are on the verge of being built across the country. It might not be too far-fetched then to anticipate that a Nepali Robinho or Ronaldinho – two Brazilian players with strong futsal pedigree, might be less than a generation away.