It’s the investment, stupidWe must build a culture where children are encouraged to pursue their sporting ambitions.
Nepali athletes set three national records as they exited the qualification round of their respective sports disciplines at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. Scoring a total of 616.8 points, shooter Kalpana Pariyar on Saturday bettered her previous national record of 614.5 points in the women’s 10m air rifle to finish 46th among a total of 50 shooters vying for the top eight spots in the final. Similarly, swimmer Alexander Shah on Tuesday set a new national record as the 18-year-old clocked 53.41 seconds to secure a top finish in the heat 1 contested by seven swimmers. Like Pariyar, the teenager bettered his previous national record of 55.38 seconds but couldn’t make it to the next round as only the top 16 swimmers who finish within 48.44 seconds qualify for the semi-finals. Shah came 59th among a total of 70 swimmers. On Wednesday, Nepal’s swimming sensation and record-breaker Gaurika Singh set a new national record, clocking 1:00.11 as she finished third in the women’s 100m freestyle heats. Like Shah, the teenager in her second berth at the Olympics couldn’t qualify for the next round as she came 50th among a total of 51 swimmers.
There have been some spectacular world and Olympic records set this week at the ongoing Olympics, a mecca for athletes. It is their time to shine, to compete among the world’s best, and to share camaraderie and celebrate the sense of fair play and win glory and accolades not just for themselves but for their countries too. To participate in a mega sporting event such as the Olympics is every athlete’s dream. Let us not forget that the Nepali athletes who put up a fight in the shadow of the giants of sports do it with their passion and perseverance and with next to zero support from the government or the private sector. Often and in a rare act, their family and friends provide economic and moral support. It is a story as old as sports development is in Nepal. Despite it all, our athletes have brought glory and fame to the country in various regional and world sporting events, but coveted gold medal victories such as in the Olympics or even the Asian Games remain elusive.
Nepal is one of three Asian countries that hasn’t won a single Olympic medal. To put it bluntly, it is impossible to secure a medal at such an elite level of competition where Nepali athletes have to face sporting legends in the few disciplines the country qualifies to play, either through the Universality places qualification system or wildcard entry. As a result, the maximum Nepali athletes can do is to go all out and break national records or better their records on the global stage. To break this trend, we must start anew, take sports and athletes seriously, and build a culture where children are encouraged to pursue their sporting ambitions.
We are a sports-loving nation. The country is dotted with volleyball courts, and local football and cricket extravaganzas still attract the ambitious. Other sports disciplines, both individual and team, also continue to attract youth talent and have a sizable audience who cheer for them in the local tournaments. This enthusiasm should be an excellent opportunity for investment, marketing and corporate social responsibility for the government and the private sector. It is not that there haven’t been positive developments. Recent developments of cricket and football leagues, income opportunities for athletes and their signings with international clubs and brand endorsement deals are indeed positive outcomes, but if we look at the funds allocated for sports development which is less than 1 percent of the federal budget, we are far from achieving our targets of nurturing youth talent and realising our dream of an Olympic or Asiad gold. It will take vision, investment and political will.