MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
The 11th South Asian Games (SAG) are set to begin on 29 January in Dhaka, Bangladesh. As participating countries gear up for the tournament, Nepali preparations have been hindered by complications within the National Sports Council (NSC) and various sports bodies. And this only scratches the surface.
NSC Vice President Pitambar Timilsina says, "political disturbances have delayed training, so not all of our players are fully prepared."
Meanwhile, sports teams are strapped for cash. While NSC requested Rs 110 million for SAG preparations, they have only received Rs 90 million.
Nepal is sending around 300 men and women to compete in 23 events. The expectations of our martial artists, who have won medals in past Games, are high. But their chances look bleak in light of the extensive preparations the Afghani, Indian and Bangladeshi sides have undertaken.
When martial artist Mukunda Maharjan, who won five gold medals at the National Games, lost 6-0 to an Afghani competitor during a tournament in Bangkok, it became clear our martial artists aren't on top of their game. Taekwondo player Deepak Bista, who is hoping to win his fourth SAG medal, explains, "In other countries, you would train for ten months and rest for two, here, you train for two months and rest for ten. So how can we be expected to win a medal?"
Within the athletics contingent, which is our largest this year, runners in the marathon and 5000-metre events have the best record. But here too, support is lacking. Marathon runner Arjun Basnet, who won a silver medal in the 10th SAG, says, "There's pressure on us to win a medal even they we haven't received enough support."
But there's good news too. If Anil Gurung and Jamuna Rai keep up their good form, then there's a strong chance our football teams, by far the most famous of the lot, will win a medal. Bangladeshi soil has proven lucky: Nepal won a gold medal at the 6th SAFF games in Dhaka in 1993.
Nepal's U-21 cricket team, led by team captain Gyanendra Malla, [see box below] will compete in a 20-over competition. Malla also led the U-18 team at the Youth World Cup in Malaysia. However, the team faces steep competition in world cricket powerhouses India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. If they manage to come away with a win, it will be a historic occasion indeed.