Nepali Times
Ganesh 1, Geeta 1


When Ganesh Thapa brought Geeta Rana into the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) as an ordinary member three years ago, not in his worst nightmares had he imagined that she would one day remove him as president of the organisation. Once close friends, Thapa and Rana have turned bitter foes. Now, Geeta Rana rules from the ANFA Complex, once Thapa's preserve, with the backing of the govern-ment, while a humiliated but wiser Thapa has opened his own new office at Pulchowk.

After Geeta Rana's successful coup prior to the ANFA election with the support of the National Sports Council, it was thought Thapa's dominance over Nepali football was over. But that wasn't to be. Thapa not only held the poll and became president of his own ANFA, but also got due recognition both from FIFA and AFC (Asian Football Confederation). With two associations claiming legitimacy to manage football in the country, the crisis is far from over.

So far, Thapa, a former captain of the Nepali national team, has been on the defensive, while Rana, who has never played active football, is calling the shots. This was evident from Thapa's decision not to lay claim over the organisation of the Birthday Cup once Rana announced she would conduct the tournament. After her appointment as chairperson of the ANFA ad hoc committee, Rana has held several meetings with the A division clubs, referees and even paid visits to districts outside the capital to garner support. On his part, the usually aggressive Thapa has remained uncharacteristically quiet apart from attending an AFC meeting in Lebanon. But Thapa's trump card is the 30 October letter from FIFA recognising the Thapa-led ANFA as the official one. Rana and NSC member-secretary Binod Palikhe have said they won't bow to pressure from FIFA and AFC, but have yet to inform the world body of the ad hoc committee.

With Thapa and Rana both remaining inflexible, it is Nepali football that is suffering. Players and coaches are in two minds about whom to support. NSC sacked Shiva Bhakta Joshi, Mani Shah, Birat Shah and Rajesh Maskey-four coaches working in NSC as permanent employees-after they participated in the ANFA election.

Probably the most at stake is the future of the ANFA Academy. After the recent controversy, of the 40 children at the Academy, 34 are with the Thapa faction while the rest are living at the ANFA hostel at Satdobato. The Geeta Rana-led ANFA accuses Thapa of forcefully keeping these children after they returned from the Dasain-Tihar break. But Thapa claims it was his duty to look after them since they came to him. These children are still studying at Galaxy School (which Geeta Rana runs) as per the agreement, but Thapa has housed them at Lagankhel and they practise at the Jawalakhel grounds. Thapa had proposed forming a neutral group to take care of the children, but Rana wasn't keen about the idea.

Thapa and Rana have time and again said that they would run ANFA professionally and that their battle is not personal. Everyone knows that is strictly for the birds. Over the years, ANFA has become country's richest sporting body. With funding coming from FIFA, AFC and the Japanese Football Association, it is the only sporting institution in the country that is not economically dependent on the NSC. Being in charge of ANFA means controlling the budget and also disbursing junkets that come in aplenty. Recently, Nepal was also the recipient of the Goal Project from FIFA. With an annual $1 million coming in for this ambitious project, the stakes are pretty high.

Thapa has begun implementing the Goal Project. His ANFA is already looking out for land in five regions where regional academies and mini-stadiums can be built. But Geeta Rana is not going to let Thapa work so easily. The NSC has already written letters to Nepal Rastra Bank to deny foreign exchange facilities to Thapa.
In the five years that he ran ANFA, Thapa managed to elbow out many of his rivals. An unlikely Geeta Rana proved to be his undoing. She came out openly when Thapa tried to hold organisational elections secretly in June. Since her elevation to the ANFA top post, she has vowed to run it democratically and transparently. This is precisely what Thapa has been swearing by over the years, so only time will tell if Rana intends to keep her word.

Both sides agree that an election is the only way out of the present impasse, but disagree on the modalities. Thapa insists the elections be held in accordance with the suggestions made by FIFA, and that NSC dissolve the ad hoc committee first. (FIFA has asked both ANFA and the NSC to change the statute, if necessary, send it to them for amendment and then hold elections.) Rana says elections should be held as per NSC rules. With such rigid stances the game is far from over.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)