Nepali Times
Fouling football


National players refuse to budge until the ANFA controversy is over, NSC won't recognise Thapa, and FIFA and AFC won't even consider Geeta Rana.

Six months of media reports over the shameful and disgusting All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) controversy, and the problem is far from solved. It took a new twist on 20 February after national soccer players announced that they would not take part in any international tournament until the present crisis is solved. And even if they wanted to, there's no governing authority that will let them. The players have called for the unification of the both the ANFA factions.

Critics accuse the players of worsening matters for both factions and fuelling a problem that has tarnished the nation's footballing image. But the truth of the matter is that the players' statement has only shown how deep-rooted problems within the nation's leading sports association are. National players issued this statement at a press conference after both the ANFA factions summoned them to join the training camp for the selection of the team for the World Cup qualifiers to be held in April this year. Earlier, Nepal was denied the chance of hosting the preliminaries due to the very same controversy.

With only one month left for the Asian Group 6 World Cup qualifying matches, Nepal's participation is in serious doubt. So far, players have refused to join the training camps of either ANFA faction. Instead, they have started their own practice sessions on the grounds adjoining the Open Theatre (Khula Manch) at Tundikhel. More than two dozen national soccer players have been practicing there for the last one week. "We're forced to practice on our own as both factions of the ANFA are still not keen on resolving the matter," says Upendra Man Singh, national team captain. "We are in a dilemma over which side to join," he added.

Players say they will not side with either of the associations until the problem is solved. Which can only mean one thing: unification of ANFA. The ever-widening rift within the ANFA has forced them to take this decision, they say. Bal Gopal Maharjan, vice-captain of the national team says: "The World Football's governing body, FIFA, has recognised one association whereas NSC recognises another." He said that although they will play football at the national level as per the contract with their respective clubs, they have decided not to participate in international level football until the sports ministry solves the present controversy.

So far, both ANFA factions have refused to budge and have been staking their claim to legitimacy in order to take the team for the qualifiers. However, players seem adamant about their decision not to play until the end of the controversy. It is not clear what the future strategy of either faction will be, although it is highly unlikely the two warring factions will unite considering the ego problems between the two. At present, Thapa has a slight advantage due to the support and recognition shown by the two international bodies of football, FIFA and AFC, whereas Geeta Rana continues to be supported by the National Sports Council. Rana has no real power to send the national team abroad, as neither FIFA and AFC recognise her camp. One thing is certain: Thapa may have had serious allegations of corruption and nepotism against him during his term in office, but the truth is that he has contributed a lot for the game in the country. In addition to this, he was also a national player and led the team for a considerable period, through which he can easily garner the public support he badly needs.

As for Geeta Rana, her management policies and elaborate plans to take the game to all districts in the country seem to have impressed many. However, Rana lacks Thapa's experience in the field, a much-needed factor to lead the nation's most loved game. Most football fans agree on that count. Nepali football is officially at a stalemate. Players refuse to budge until the controversy is over, the NSC does not recognise the Thapa faction and so will not let him take the players to the qualifiers, and FIFA and AFC do not even consider Rana. To make matters worse, NSC member-secretary Binod Shankhar Palikhe has threatened to ban players for five years if they league up with the Thapa camp.

Meanwhile Thapa has said that he has no problems in taking the team selected by Rana to the qualifiers. Rana however knows that letting him do so will only boost his image. With Thapa and Rana refusing to come to any agreement, players fear that they stand to suffer in long run. "Football administrators think that players can be ignored and they can do whatever they want," says Upendra Man Singh.
In the last six months, neither Thapa nor Rana tried to call any of the national players. The players have not received their monthly allowance of Rs 2000 for the last five months. They accuse both sides of disregarding them during the rest of the year, and say they were only asked to join the camps when when the qualifying matches approached. For the few that each side has managed to pull in, the Rana led ANFA has started training camps at ANFA complex in Satdobato while the Thapa faction team is training in the Engineering Campus grounds in Pulchowk.

Meanwhile most of the main players are in a dilemma. "Binod Palikhe has promised an alternative plan to send the national squad to the qualifiers," says Singh. That leaves the question: How can the NSC, which is the governing body of all sporting associations in the country, solve the problem by taking sides? And if that weren't enough, there are rumours that national coach Stephen Constantine, who's done so well with the team (#29), is so sick of the whole mess that he's thinking of quitting.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)