38-year old Tika Bogati from Gorkha district is a gold medal winning marathon runner, but no one seems to remember him any more. From an average Nepali family, as an 18-year-old Bogati did what many Nepali boys his age did then and still do-join the Royal Nepal Army in the non-gazetted ranks. That was where the athlete in him emerged-for reasons one might not immediately guess.
"In the army performing well in sports betters your chances of getting promotions," says Bogati, who rose to the rank of sergeant before he voluntarily retired in 1997, with enough years of service to earn a pension. "I had promotions at the back of my mind through all my efforts," he adds. While serving in the army, the annual King's Banner Inter-Barrack Games offered Bogati the chance to see just how fast he could be, and soon he was participating in non-Army sporting events. He first represented Nepal in the men's marathon in the fifth South Asian Federation Games held in Sri Lanka in December 1991 where he managed to snag bronze. He continued to run steadily and in the seventh SAF Games in Madras in 1995, he jogged into first place in the men's 42 km marathon.
His performance in the '95 Games impressed the government enough to award him the prestigious Gurkha Dakshin Bahu award and Rs 100,000. He also receives a monthly salary of Rs 1,534, part of the Nepal Sports Council (NSC) attempt to support athletes who have performed well for the country. "What can we do with Rs 1,534," asks Bogati, who considers himself lucky because he also receives his army pension. This may change when the Nepal Sports Council (NSC) finalises a plan in the works to increase the monthly payment to anyone who has won gold for Nepal.
After Bogati took first place in the seventh SAF Games, he decided to retire from competition and be a coach or a trainer. Until 1997, he trained athletes in the army, but now that he is retired, there's no avenue for him to impart his knowledge to the next generation of marathoners.
The NSC does not recognise Bogati as a national trainer, although he and 29 other former national athletes recently participated in the International Amateur Athlete Federation's Coaches Education Certificate System training programme sponsored by the International Development Co-operation Programme and organised by the Nepal Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Nepal Amateur Athletics Association (NAAA). The two week long training programme was meant to sharpen their skills so they could train younger athletes professionally. Unfortunately, only 13 of the 30 participants passed both the written and practical exams-most were denied the certificates because they couldn't pass the English exams, and they were disgruntled. "We did not have the necessary connections to get us the certificates," said a long time colleague of Bogati who spoke on condition of anonymity. But Bogati doesn't mind. "The certificate is just a symbol, I am confident enough to go and train other younger people if the
NSC gives me a chance to do so," he says.
Bogati's case is emblematic of what happens to many Nepali sportspersons. The problem revolves around money-the NSC, which is an umbrella group for all other government sporting bodies, gets a good deal of funding from donors, and many allege this is why the Council looks out just for itself and insists on being the deciding authority on everything. Organisations like the NAAA, a government-affiliated body to which all athletes representing the country must belong, are dependant on the NSC and the NOC for the budget to organise events and train their members. (Some organisations, like the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), do occasionally receive funding from international bodies.) On a tiny Rs 200,000 budget, the NAAA provides free training for amateur athletes, organises competitions and somehow manages to meet overheads. Kamal Lama, a member of the NAAA executive committee says that realistically, the association's annual budget isn't even enough to organise a proper competition.
What happens to people like Bogati when the money and the power to make decisions remain under the control of an overarching central body is that he must wait until the NSC goes through his entire profile and decides whether they will employ him as a coach. If the NAAA or another body dedicated to athletics alone had a little more power, they could take such decisions, and focus on developing the capabilities of Nepali athletes. The NSC could focus on larger sporting issues, instead of getting involved in the nitty-gritty of the administration of all sports.
Bogati wants to go back to Gorkha and train young athletes there, but he may never be able to do so formally. He still does his daily practice runs and visits the NAAA hoping the association can do something for him.