17 December 2013

Club football requires common sense reforms

Poor policies leading to poor crowds at Dasharath Rangashala
(This article originally appeared in Republica)

Nepal´s top-level football clubs have to sign a minimum of 16 players in April, but the league does not start until late December. Most teams play matches for only around 5 months in a calendar year, but are required to pay players for 12 months worth of service. The dates, formats and participants of important tournaments are anyone´s guess and usually only revealed at the last hour.

Such poor planning and coordination between the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) and clubs has left Nepali club football on the brink.

Nepal´s oldest club New Road Team (NRT) has called it quits on the ´A´ Division this year. Another historic club, Rani Pokhari Corner Team (RCT), may follow suit and has already decided not to participate in the ongoing Ncell Cup, the richest domestic cup tournament. Whispers at Nepal´s national stadium, Dasharath Rangashala, suggest that several other prominent clubs are also contemplating their footballing future.

With ever growing entertainment alternatives, the plethora of high quality international football easily accessible on satellite television, and the emergence of the Nepal´s national cricket team, Nepal´s club football structure requires major reforms or risks plunging into oblivion.

Both football clubs and select ANFA officials like to argue that it is all about money and that limited resources is what restricts Nepali football from reaching its full potential. This columnist begs to differ. Nepali football needs more common sense, not more money.

Simply providing more revenues to clubs would only create greater inflation in player salaries, as has been the case for the past few years. Clubs and ANFA need to work together to initiate policies that are fan friendly and also spur clubs to develop themselves.

Minimize uncertainty

A key step in helping clubs to develop is to greatly reduce the uncertainty that surrounds club football on a yearly basis. Details such as tournament dates, participants, formats, and prize-money need to be ironed out years, not days, in advance.

When a club has no idea in advance what tournaments it will play in, how much money it can expect to receive or how many teams will get relegated/promoted from the league, then how exactly is it supposed to develop a sound blueprint for the future? Once clubs are clear on such matters it makes it much easier for them to formulate proper budgets and plans. It also allows media and fans to orient themselves for an impending football season.

Introduce club licensing

Nepali football clubs are shortsighted. That is why no club to this date, despite all of them having many decades of history, has a proper football training ground or youth academy. The only way to get clubs to start focusing on such areas is by implementing a club licensing system that requires them to meet certain minimum criteria to be eligible to participate in tournaments.

The criteria can range from simple to complex like requiring all clubs to have a medical doctor as part of their staff to mandating that they be commercially active. In that regard, clubs need to ask for and ANFA should provide marketing inventory to clubs so that they can better attract sponsors and increase their fan base. As an example, each club could have the right to place an advertisement board on the perimeter of the field during their matches, have access to a booth where they can sell club merchandise or promote their sponsor and be given season tickets which they can provide to sponsors or sell to their fans.

Adopt common sense policies

Nepali football is littered with policies that need to be reevaluated. For example, as previously noted, Nepal´s Martyr´s Memorial League ´A´ Division usually starts in December, but players must be registered in April. That means clubs have to take care of players for nine months before they kick a ball in the League.

By the time December rolls around most clubs are broke and they are not able to pay their players on time. Consequently, many players are not in a proper frame of mind when the league begins and we witness many less than stellar matches. This could easily be avoided by simply moving the registration window for players to November and having Nepal´s football calendar go from November to October instead of the current April to March.

There are many such common sense changes that ANFA and clubs could make that would require no funds and would dramatically improve the state of Nepali club football. Unfortunately, it is common sense and not money that seems to be the major hurdle for club football in Nepal.