Two years ago, almost to the day, two people known to have worked tirelessly for football development in the Eastern Nepal – Dilip Rai and Bhagirath Ale – were receiving award at the hands of actor duo Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansa Acharya.
Just when Dilip Rai reached both the donors, he tried touching their feet à la Bollywood award shows, as a mark of respect. But before Rai could do that, Madan Krishna fell to their feet. A scene not seen very easily in the country. Now, nobody would question stature and integrity of these two gentlemen giving away the awards. Nobody would either think that Madan Krishna was mocking the two men who’ve given so much to the football, at least in the Eastern region. Nobody in the region, who’s touched the ball, is unaware of these names.
The scene was from Pulsar Sports Awards, organized by Nepal Sports Journalists Forum (NSJF), two years ago. If you were present there as an audience, you’d have been struck by the emotions visible on stage. Here were two men, the recipients of special contribution award, who had immense respect for the two men – distributing awards – who are nothing short of heroes for a common Nepali. The best part was, the sheer amount of respect shown by these two heroes, who bowed down, to respect the contribution of two sports officials.
Nepal doesn’t have a long history of making its sportspersons rich, in terms of material possession. Stories of several sportsmen struggling to make their ends meet, at a later stage of their lives, are a commonplace. One psychological study on Nepali players – and one must admit that there aren’t many done so far – concluded that players here play more for social recognition. Name mentioned in newspaper headlines gives them a reason to push themselves harder, every time they train.
Somewhere this particular award – Pulsar Sports Award by NSJF – has continued the tradition. It gives the players limelight, with names splashed across almost every newspaper, radio and television. Moreover, since the awards are merit based, it is a reflection of their performance, of what they’ve achieved, playing for the country. As a player, if you can’t enjoy limelight, you probably do not have the mental make-up to face the stress that comes while playing for the nation. For this reason alone, the awards need to be celebrated, despite the hype – sometimes bordering on too much of it – it generates every year.
Bhupendra Silwal – Nepal’s first Olympian – received the Lifetime Achievement Award last year. What surprised yours truly was, the number of television channels showing his biography, following the award. It was pleasant to see that everybody talking of the man that took first strides for Nepal in Olympics (1964). Yet it was sad, as it appeared as if he did not exist, before the award was given. An army man – whose life represented Greek Tragedy – for the simple reason that he was forced to choose sports. State never cared for him. That’s exactly why this award becomes important. It reminded the younger generation that this country has had a sports history. It also told them why we needed to recognize the first generation of athletes and appreciate what they did, despite facing difficulty from all quarters.
This in a way tells you why this award needs to be feted. This may not have become “Ballon d’Or” or Laureus as yet, or may never become so. Yet it has established a niche for itself. For it has given us moments that we would cherish, and should cherish. For it has made us learn, what sports culture is (shown by the players when they say being nominated is as good as winning the award). For this has told us, mere cash is not enough for players. What they deserve is respect.
When Gajraj Joshi – another first generation athlete for Nepal – was given lifetime achievement award in 2005, you could see entire auditorium standing as they applauded the old man, for what he had achieved long long ago. The noise gave you goose bumps and made you skip a heartbeat or two. When Joshi died, his son was heard telling a journalist, “That was the proudest moment for me and my father.”
And that’s why, exactly why, it needs to be celebrated.
PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 29th June 2013.