Nepali Times
Courting youth


When your sport's number one player has held top spot for more than a decade and his closest challenger is half a century old it's time to shake things up. And that's just what Nepal's squash bosses plan to do.

"We need talented coaches and referees to conduct good international standard games and to be able to get new blood into the game," says Amar K Simha, president of the Nepal Squash Rackets Association.

While the top players' legs are getting a little wobbly, no one is complaining about the national squash academy, built a year ago as part of the Birendra International Sports Complex in Sat Dobato. Early mornings its four courts are often filled with 30 and 40-somethings sweating and swatting at a small black ball that caroms off front, back and side walls with racquets that blend badminton and tennis bats.

All the courts really need now is solar heating for the showers in winter and an event to showcase the game. That was supposed to be an Asian junior tournament last year but it was cancelled after riots on 1 September. The event is now scheduled for September or October 2006, says Simha, who picked up the sport while studying in England.

In January he was elected to a four-year term as association president (after previous appointments as squash chief). He's cautiously optimistic about the future. "Squash is still in the infant stage in the fact that it's not gone down to the grassroots.but at the same time we've had some good results, there's been a slight improvement."

Team Nepal finished third in the 2004 South Asian Federation (SAF) Games. Leading the way was the country's top player-since 1993-Hira Bahadur Thapa. He started playing when the country's only public court was in Battisputali Squash Club: hired as caretaker he started hitting around for fun.

Since then his only formal training has been for a few weeks prior to SAF games but the only Nepali who's been able to offer him a serious challenge in more than a decade is Suresh Gurung, 50.

Last year Thapa took a game from world number one Rachael Grinham when women squash stars put on an exhibition in Nepal. But he only smiles when asked if he ever dreams of playing on a bigger more squash savvy stage.

However, waiting on the sidelines are a handful of teenage players willing to dream, who can be found squashing balls at the courts every evening. "I just took my SLC exams this year so I came here to do some exercise in the three-month break after SLCs," says Binit Shrestha, 16.

Ramesh Neupane, 19, says he has played for the past year "to be mentally and physically fresh". Both discovered squash on tv but say their friends don't know the game. That doesn't stop them from dreaming of turning pro
one day.

Simha has more practical goals. "In five years we would like to have very good boys and girls teams that we could send to international tournaments. I wouldn't say we would be able to meet the Asian standard by then but certainly the SAF standard is within reach."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)