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Damage control

Friday, January 29th, 2010
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From Nepali Times issue #487 (29 Jan 2010 – 04 Feb 2010)

hockey1Nepal’s national hockey team will compete in the 11th South Asian Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which begins today. While other participants angle for a medal, our hockey players are thinking: damage control.

The reason is the team’s poor performance in the 7th SAAF games in 1995, when it scored one goal and conceded 54 – and here’s the kicker – ┬áin just four games. Nepal lost 1-10 against Bangladesh, 0-18 against hockey2India, 0-22 against Pakistan and 0-4 against Sri Lanka.

Hockey promptly dropped off the radar at the National Sports Council. Since 1995, only the 2009 National Games hosted a hockey tournament. This indifference, however, has only deepened the problems. There isn’t a single hockey pitch in Nepal, and forget about astro-turf. India has three fields in Lucknow alone and there are more than three dozen in Pakistan. Nepal’s hockey team did hockey3not participate in the 10th SAG games in Sri Lanka.

At the 11th SAG, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India will compete in a round robin competition for berths in the final. India and Pakistan, where hockey is the national sport, have the region’s best teams. India has won the gold eight times in the Olympics and Pakistan three times.

Predictably, Nepal is underprepared. It first practiced in St. Xavier’s campus and then went to Nepalganj. India generously allowed them to play on astro-turf in Lucknow for 21 days. Coach Baburam Nepal says the practice was useful, even though it was short. “We played with the Indian team, which boosted our confidence.”

Nepali players also got to mingle with Indian players and received good media coverage. “Although India is the leader in hockey, the sport is gradually losing popularity there. But the fact that a country that doesn’t even have a field was competing in SAG amazed everyone,” Nepal says.

Just before they flew to Bangladesh, Nepali hockey players were seen practicing on the running track at the Dasharath stadium to get used to the feel of a synthetic surface. But they had to wait for athletes to finish up before they could take to the track.

With their first match just hours away, their objective is to concede as few goals as possible, and not to repeat the 1995 debacle. They also hope to perform well against Sri Lanka. But their chances look bleak.

The coach isn’t upbeat either: “We got 54 goals when we practised three months, what can we expect from 21 days practice this time?”

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