Nepali Times
Girls' goal


There's good news for everyone who gave up on Nepali football disgusted with the power struggles between the two factions of the All Nepal Football Association. There's a Nepali team off for the first time to play in Europe, at the 30-year-old Norway Cup. The national under-16 girl's team. And even better news, the team has members from all over the country, and not only Kathmandu. There's only one player from the capital; the others come from as far away as Jhapa and Kailali.

The girls haven't had much time to prepare for the tournament, which begins 28 July, but they're working hard at the closed camp being run at the ANFA hostel in Satdobato. After three rounds of selection following the agreement signed between the Norwegian Embassy in Nepal and the ANFA in April, 16 players were chosen from 70 candidates. The team has been training in Satdobato since, practicing for an hour-and-a-half two times a day, no matter what the weather.

The terms of participation in the Norway Cup require that girls' teams be accompanied by a female coach. The only licensed woman football coach in Nepal, Lalita Shrestha, was engaged elsewhere, so for the moment the team is working with coach Milan Hada, who has been a coach for seven years. He says the team is a good one, but acknowledges that they aren't yet battle-tested. "There is lack of competition for the girls. You can't guarantee performance without competition," he says. Without regular competitions and matches, there's no avenue for the team to develop their skills, confidence and strategies. "There are five or six players with great potential, and they should have the opportunity to continue with this," says coach Hada.

Unfortunately, it is likely that this under-16 team won't even be a team after the Norway Cup. Hada and Sanjiv Mishra, manager of the team, aren't too hopeful, although Mishra tells us that Geeta Rana's Women's Football Committee is trying it's best to ensure the team's survival. The major hurdle here is the matter of social acceptance. Nepalis are finding it hard to come to terms with the idea of women playing football. "Society, the way people think, is the biggest enemy of women's football. There are still these traditional ideas about girls staying home and performing chores," says Hada. "The team is almost entirely supported by ANFA right now, but they will definitely need more support from other sports organisations, the media and maybe even individuals," Hada said. The team needs proper budget for everything from training to housing to food to education.

The girls themselves are over the moon. They are focused, dedicated, and excited, even if they do worry about how tall and strong many of their competitors will be. When we visited them at a practice session last week, they were clearly enjoying themselves thoroughly, although they played with grim concentration. "It's great to be a national player. Everyone dreams of making it. I'm proud that I represent my country all over the world," said 15-year-old Pashupati Rana, who has been playing on various national-level teams for five years. But the most experienced player on the squad knows only too well how hard it will be to keep her passion alive. "People are still discouraging and disrespectful to players," she shrugs. Her teammates agree, but say that their love of the game is a suitable enough retort to most naysayers.

The girls met for the first time when they moved into the ANFA hostel, but they've managed to get into real team spirit. They say they are like a very close-knit family now, sharing their sharing their problems and helping each other. And despite the rigorous training, they remain young girls in their early- and mid-teens who like to loosen up after practice. They laugh and tell us about singing in the shower, playing cards, reading books and swapping family stories. They say they will train hard here, and do their best and learn all they can in Norway. When they return, they're desperately hoping that they can keep playing.

(Kashish Das Shrestha is a staff writer with Wave.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)