It’s not been long since FIFA President Joseph Blatter termed Nepali footballers being ‘as good as Barcelona’ players. You could debate, whether FIFA President had seen enough of Nepali football to be in a position to comment, or was in a hyperbole mode, or was just trying to please the hosts of AFC Challenge Cup 2012. One thing for sure is that he definitely wanted football taking centerstage in the country. A country that hasn’t seen much positivity in past decade or so…
But less than a week since the remark made headlines, Nepali football has been downed in disappointment. For fans, there is disappointment that their team could not win a single match at the championship. Forget win, Nepali team could not score a single goal but conceded as many as half a dozen. You may say that the spectators were expecting impossible, for we were not good enough to become the champions. But fans being fans, they have right to expect. That’s why they came in huge numbers at the Dashrath Stadium, to cheer for their team, carrying flags and face painted in the colors of national flag. For, unless they expect and back their team, their team may not play above their potentials ever.
The worry that Nepal could not score at all has been there for a long time and football administrators may do well to consider it and try to find a long-term solution.
But the column here is not to debate on the performance, but the off-field activities that mocked football. Those are the real worries for football now, and something that needs immediate attention.
Yes, I am talking about Nepal Army’s high-handedness in taking its players from the squad. Army’s two players, Bikash Malla and Raju Tamang, were taken away around midnight, just before Nepal’s last game of the championship. Taking away player is one thing, but the manner in which they were taken away is the real issue of concern.
Coach Graham Robert’s tenure in Nepal may have brought mixed results and ended in disappointment, but one has to give it to him, for being courageous and straightforward, when he said his players were ‘kidnapped’. For he, of all the people, came to know that two players from his ranks were ‘absent’, at the breakfast table. Forget Roberts, not even Nepal’s football governing body, ANFA, was notified.
To know that this is not first such incident, is even more worrying. Circa 2005, Army did not let Boys Union player Binay Chaudhary play in the league. Chaudhary was taken away by army saying he was a ‘renegade’.
Now, how does that make sense in football? Army has to learn that it’s a game and not a war. Many conflict hit countries focus on the sport to bring peace, to erase the wounds of past wars. For a sport that has been named as ‘a beautiful game’ by the greats, such behavior is condemnable. Nepal Army does not only owe an explanation to ANFA for its act, but also owes an apology to the fans. For the fans, football is not an army parade in a barrack but is a game they love to watch and support. Moreover, Army sends its players to the national squad to play as a player of Army Club and not as ‘Armymen’.
What would have happened if Malla and Tamang were selected for random drug test on the day they were ‘absent’? Nepali team made an excuse saying they were not well, when these players were facing Sri Lankan Army in a match elsewhere.
We might as well remember that Rio Ferdinand, English footballer, paid a fine of £ 50,000 and was banned for 8 months – which made him miss entire Euro 2004 – for evading a drug test.
Army, for its part, said that the players were to play in the South Asian Army Sports Meet and was important championship. But was it more important than national pride? National pride was put on stake by the organization which takes pride in protecting national boundaries. For all I know, Army has shamed football fans, and more importantly, football itself. An apology is awaited…
(PS: The write-up appeared in YoursTruly’s weekly sports column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post, on 17th March,2012)