Nepali football fans should be a happy lot this week. Primarily for the reason that their team would be playing in front of them, in AFC Challenge Cup, against Bangladesh, Palestine and Northern Mariana Island, in the floodlit Dashrath stadium.
It’s a pleasure to watch your team in action against other teams. It is an added pleasure it is to know that you don’t have to bear the notorious stench emanating from the restrooms that Dashrath stadium has now become famous for, during the league matches.
For a change, the nation’s only international stadium looks (at least) international for now. With a green top and clean-looking stadium, it is likely to make even the television viewers happy about watching football.
It is a commendable to see how good looking Dashrath stadium has been made for international matches, from what it was only a few weeks ago. But this is as far as it goes. After spending hundreds of thousands of rupees in stadium maintenance, it has been leased for a concert featuring international musical band Deep Purple (just after AFC Challenge Cup gets over).
Now, this is a serious issue. Infrastructure building or maintenance is not a cakewalk. As imperative is it to develop sports, it requires huge budget and a lot of dedication. It is evident by the fact that there has been no major overhaul of capital’s sports infrastructure (Dashrath stadium premises) in last three decades, except for China-aided preparation for South Asian Games in 1999, when floodlights were erected and tracks were renovated.
It is also worth mentioning that Maldives had complained about the standard of the ground, to Asian Football Confederation (AFC), when host for AFC Challenge Cup was being selected. On that basis, Nepal did not get chance to host the final round matches of the championship. I would like to add here that Maldives can’t boast of top notch football infrastructure (just at the same level that we are). Around the same time Jordan had also complained about the ground conditions, following its World Cup qualifiers match, as Nepal leveled that match 1-1, following a 9-0 drubbing in away match. One can’t forget the support Nepali players had from rain gods and muddy pitch.
The condition of infrastructure is such that, the spectators from the gallery, in an event of rain and thunderstorm, rush to come under the parapet to find refuge. This doesn’t help the already claustrophobic entry and exit points. One should here remember that exactly (to the week) 26 years ago, Dashrath Stadium had witnessed one of the worst stadium disasters in the world, when 70 plus people were killed as crowd rushed to escape thunderstorm. Infrastructure has hardly improved much after that incident. This means the threat of such a calamity still looms.
Apart from dangers, the other problem with Dashrath stadium is that, the only international football stadium of the country, is not controlled by football governing body ANFA. It belongs to National Sports Council, and is subject to the whims and fancies of whoever is heading that. The other stadium that is used to host international matches, the APF-owned Halchowk ground, is beyond ANFA’s jurisdiction too. It is difficult to develop the infrastructure that is not under your control and rightly ANFA has been running from pillar to post to find a plot to build a stadium of its own. However, it would not be easy to have a stadium in the busy and packed capital. Solution can be sought by trying to find a plot in nearby city like Banepa or Dhulikhel or even on the route. Driving for an hour from the city to get to stadium is not unusual in these days.
Hosting AFC Challenge Cup is expensive (around 15 million rupees). Despite 60K dollar support from AFC, it is an arduous task. The football governing body seems to have attempted it with the belief of raising it through crowd support. It would be icing on the cake, if Nepali team is able to deliver during these matches. But more important it is, to focus on infrastructure development, as Nepal hosts U-14 Football Festival and SAFF Championship this year (after a gap of 16 years).
(PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 2nd March, 2013)