Around the world, women’s sports are consistently thought of as subpar to the games men play. Female athletes are relegated to the sidelines of national conversation. They get less coverage in the media, are treated with less respect and receive smaller paychecks than their male counterparts.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Nepali Times caught up with a few female athletes who have done the nation proud in recent international tournaments.
The wushu warrior
“My gold medal is a message for girls who think they are not as good as boys”
Pics: Gopen Rai
Watching Nima Gharti Magar's intense concentration while performing nanchuan (a form of wushu practiced with a sword), it's hard to believe that the teenager gold medalist from the South Asian Games took up the sport only four years ago.
The movements are graceful yet powerful as she effortlessly maneuvers the heavy sword with an air of confidence that belies her young age. In a field still dominated by men, the 16-year-old is determined to break barriers and gender stereotypes.
"My gold medal is a message for everyone, especially girls who think they are not as good as boys when it comes to physical tasks," says Magar, sitting on the banks of Godavari river, where she first began her wushu training.
Many of her friends who began their training with her have quit and her friends at school are also not interested in sports, and Magar says she is frustrated with the attitude among her female friends.
Those close to her know Magar as someone who’d always stand up for herself. She'd beat up her older brother when he tried to look down on her. Father Mansur Gharti Magar encouraged both his children to try out the sport when they showed interest in joining the local Ninja quan.
His son dropped out but Nima continued training. "Look at her now. She has earned a name for herself and done us proud," says Mansur.
Nima always enjoyed watching players of the Ninja Wushu Quan train beside the river from her house in Tikathali. So when a friend suggested they join together one day, she jumped right in.
Soon after, she made it to the national team, securing the second position in the 9th National Wushu Championship, but lost her spot when she came in third in the Lumbini Championships. Remaining confident, she trained even harder and qualified for the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
But her form wasn’t included in the final list.
"She cried for days," remembers Mansur. With only three spots in the SAG closed camps, Nima's worries were compounded since she also missed her exams while training. But when she called to say she made it on the team, her father told her to concentrate on wushu and not worry about her exams.
"If she has to, she can always give her SLC next year," says Mansur, who had moved his family to Kathmandu from Rolpa in 1999 to escape the conflict.
Video by Gopen Rai and Ayesha Shakya
For now, the 10th grader is concentrating on her studies. "My first goal was the SAG and now that I have achieved it, my next goal is clearing the SLC," says Nima.
When she is not busy studying and training, Nima enjoys drawing and with her new-found popularity she has found another hobby.
"I enjoy photo shoots," says Nima as she poses for the camera.
A golden girl
Downplaying women’s football
The subdued welcome for the female football team after SAG shows that women still have to play defense
Tsering Dolker Gurung
Pics: Dhruba KC
When Nepal’s men’s football team beat India in a tightly contested match to take gold in the 12th South Asian Games in Shillong last month the whole country erupted with joy. The last time Nepal had won was 23 years ago in the 1993 SAG Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Finally, the dark cloud hanging over Nepal’s football had been lifted, analysts said. But what was forgotten amidst the celebrations and extensive coverage of the men’s victory was that Nepal’s women’s team was also competing in the Games, taking silver. But there were few fans at the airport and no victory parade through the streets of Kathmandu.
“Of course, we would have loved to be in their place and have the support of the entire nation with us,” says team captain Anu Lama, who isn’t really surprised by the subdued welcome. “That’s just the way things have always been.”
In the absence of private football clubs for women in Nepal, it is the departmental clubs of the Armed Police Force, Nepal Police and Army, which provide job opportunities for women footballers. More than half of the players including Lama who were selected for the SAG are associated with these clubs.
“People don’t want to invest in women’s football because they don’t think they can make money out of it,” explains Sanjeev Mishra, a football analyst and development director at ANFA (All Nepal Football Association). “But, initiation should be taken by big clubs. Only then will performance improve and result in increase in quality and quantity of good players.”
Currently, as national players, each female player receives a monthly salary of Rs 10,000 from ANFA, Nepal’s prime football governing body, compared to Rs 15,000 for male players.
Some male players earn up to Rs 70,000 a month playing for local clubs, others even more from endorsement deals. "That unforunately is not a possibility for female players," says Dhruba KC, coach of the women’s team.
KC suggests increased grassroots training for young women and girls, holding more women’s tournaments and offering football programs on par with those for male footballers to develop women's football in Nepal.
Every year ANFA receives $250,000 in assistance from FIFA and less than 20 per cent goes towards the development of women’s football.
But KC believes lack of funds is not the main problem. “What’s lagging is a clear vision and dedication to improve women’s football,” says the coach.
Since 2010, the women’s team has put on consistently good performances, reaching the finals of both the South Asian Games and the SAFF Championship three times in a row. But in all these matches, Nepal lost to India.
“Everybody talked about how the men’s team hadn’t won an international title in over two decades, but nobody wanted to discuss why the women’s team couldn’t perform against India,” says Mishra.
An aging pool of players, lack of adequate training, limited exposure, and a lack of interest from sponsors has all hurt women's football in Nepal.
The problem, however, is not only in Nepal. Women’s football usually gets much less attention than men’s football around the world. People like KC are trying to change that before the next SAFF Championship in September.
Says KC: “Our women are equally capable and talented and have the ability to win medals. They just need more support.”
Who says women are the weaker sex in sports?, Sharon Krum
Why Nepali football hasn't kicked off, Elvin L Shrestha
Khatri cites her father as her biggest motivation to excel in the sport. He was tragically killed in the 2014 Everest avalanche.
Yu Wei Liew
For Phupu Lhamu Khatri, winning the gold medal during the 12th South Asian Games in India last month was by far the greatest moment in her life.
But, even as the first Nepali woman to take gold in judo at the SAG, Khatri’s introduction to the sport came about purely by chance. After a judo tournament held near her family’s restaurant, many of the competitors dropped by for lunch.
Judo Association members Chandra Dangol and Lila Adhikari struck up a conversation with Khatri and persuaded her father to let her give the sport a go. The following day, her father took her to the judo club, and at 13, her journey to being a judo champion began.
Khatri cites her father, Dorje Khatri, as her biggest motivation to excel in the sport. He was tragically killed in the avalanche on the Khumbu Ice fall below Mt Everest in 2014 that took the lives of 18 Nepali climbers.
When it was announced that she had won the gold medal, Khatri said she saw her father before her eyes, smiling and congratulating her. “I always think of him before I do my judo, and in that moment when I saw him, it was too amazing. He’s my hero,” she says.
Khatri also attributed her win to the opportunities and support that her family and coaches have given her throughout the years. “It was an achievement of a lifetime and judo gave me that platform,” she says. “I’m so thankful for that, and for everyone who has helped me get to this level.”
The 21-year-old is currently in Hungary, undergoing further training in hopes to qualify for the Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil this August.
Khatri said that she would love to continue competing in judo, but that it would depend on her family’s circumstances. As her father was the main breadwinner, the family has been struggling to cope ever since his death.
But, she says: “Even if I don’t compete in future I will be attached to the sport, perhaps as a coach. Judo gave me a platform and a name, so I can’t live without it in my life.”
To the finish line
Jumla teenager will not stop running towards her dream
Action Asia Events
Ultra marathon runner Bishnu Maya Budha never thought she’d set foot in a foreign country. Yet on her very first trip overseas, she won the MSIG Lantau VK female championship in Hong Kong, covering a distance of 5km in 51 minutes and 50 seconds.
Budha was running not only for her love of the sport but also to silence critics back in her town in the remote northwestern mountains of Nepal who doubted her.
“Being a girl, people in my village thought I was up to no good. But I did not care, I did what I thought was right. I kept on running,” says Budha, who is busy preparing to run her next race in Yading, China.
Raised in Jumla, Budha was in Grade 10 when she started running. “It started off as a hobby. I used to play volleyball and badminton, and running was just another sport for me.”
Two years later, Budha has a newfound outlook on life and on running. Winning the Jumla Rara Ultra Marathon in 2014, her very first race, strengthened this resolve.
Zealous and perseverant, Budha continued to compete in more races to reach her dream of becoming the world’s top ultra marathon runner. She took first place at the Manaslu Race and also ran in trail and ultra marathon races in Annapurna, Shivapuri, and Kathmandu.
But for Budha, winning is not the only motivation. It is the idea of being recognised and representing Nepal in the world that keeps her going, despite people’s disapproval.
Budha confesses that initially it was hard not having the support of her family. However, it was her guru, Hari Rokaya, who refused to give up on her.
“She has immense potential and she can achieve so much in this field,” says Rokaya. Still, his wish is to see her enrolled in the Army: “You need a job, some kind of stability. One cannot just run and earn a living, unless you have access to good facilities and are financially sound.”
Nevertheless, the 19-year-old is optimistic that she can support herself through her passion. Taking inspiration from running sensation, Mira Rai, she believes the sky is the limit in her running career.
Budha’s biggest gripe, however, is against the government for not giving ultra marathon running the recognition it deserves, even though there are brilliant runners from Jumla and elsewhere.
Still, she says: “No matter what people say or do, we should not lose hope.”
Read more from our International Women's Day Special
Land of our daughters, Editorial
Trapped in the Net, Rubeena Mahato
Online violence against women, Sahina Shrestha
Taboo no more, Ayesha Shakya