Jeevan Ram Shrestha: My current focus is to make the 13th South Asian Games a grand successThe Nepal Olympic Committee chief on the ongoing preparations for the Games scheduled for December 1-10.
Parliamentarian Jeevan Ram Shrestha was re-elected as the president of the Nepal Olympic Committee last month for a second term. Shrestha, who was also appointed as the member secretary of the National Sports Council twice in the past, is among the handful of Nepali politicians considered to be well-versed on the domestic sports scene, and has been directly involved in Nepali sports for the past decade and a half. Shrestha previously served as the general secretary of the Nepal Olympic Committee for two terms before being elected as the chief.
As Nepal is set to host the 13th South Asian Games from December 1 to 10, the Committee has a central role to play as a bridge between the visiting six teams of the sub continent and the organisers. The Post’s Prajwal Oli caught up with Shrestha to discuss the 13th South Asian Games, Nepali sports scene and his plans to develop sports in the country.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
The 13th South Asian Games, set to be hosted by Nepal, has been postponed three times in the past. How confident are you about holding the event on the scheduled date this time?
I am very optimistic that the Games will be held on the scheduled date. The current date was finalised after intense discussions with the government of Nepal and Minister for Youth and Sports Daljit Sunar Bishwokarma. We also need to discuss the matter with, and take consent of the member associations of the South Asian Olympic Council. Also, it is the last possible date and the event cannot be pushed beyond this. As it is the third and the final date, none of the members are ready to postpone it again.
Who is to be blamed for the postponement of the event in the past, as it has definitely tarnished the image of the country at the international level?
The postponement is directly associated with the government. It is the government that will get credit if the Games are held on time and in a proper fashion. And it is the government which has to take the blame for any weaknesses and flaws. The government is directly responsible for organising the Games as it comes under the respective country’s Olympic committees. The hosting right was awarded to Nepal at the Council meeting during the 12th South Asian Games (2016) and we made our claims only after discussions were held with the government and then Minister for Youth and Sports Satya Narayan Mandal as well as the respective unit of the Parliamentary Hearing Committee.
But we were going through political instability and there were frequent government changes. We, however, had close ties with the government on matters related to the Games, including postponing the date for it. The new [third] date was also set after discussions with the current government and Council members.
What are the reasons you think contributed in postponing the event?
Unstable government I think is the major reason for the postponement of the event. Lack of willpower and infrastructure is also to blame. But frequent changes in government and leadership in sports [Minister of Youth and Sports] before the election are mainly to be blamed for postponement of the Games. The game was not prioritised by the government and therefore it hampered the construction of the required infrastructure.
As a host, what will be the responsibility of Nepal in the Games?
Nepal will be responsible for all aspects. Authorisation of games, maintaining standards, and giving validation to events [records] will come under the jurisdiction of the National Olympic Committee. As the Games is an international event being organised under the umbrella of the Olympic, the records will not only be valid at the South Asian level, but throughout the world. The other things including managing the Games, preparing, organising the event as per the international standards and ensuring a friendly environment for players are the responsibilities of the preparation committee [Government of Nepal].
Organising the Games at this scale is also associated with national identity and prestige. If we run the event in a well-managed and smooth manner, it will send across positive messages about the country globally.
We lack basic infrastructure for the Games, including the Olympic Village among others. How are we going to manage such issues?
Looking at the international practices so far, mega events organised under the Olympic Umbrella such as Olympics and Asian Games [continental meets] have the practice of building the Olympic Village. In the context of the SA Games [sub continental sports meet], there is no such practice. There may be tentatively 4,000 visiting delegates for the Games but the exact number can only be estimated after completion of registrations. In the absence of a proper village, ensuring sound arrangement for accommodation that meets certain standards that’s similar to the village, will be key.
What are the major things we lack as hosts? And what can we do to improve?
Our preparations have been delayed under various pretexts. We must gear up on vital issues on the organising part. It could be on infrastructure development, accommodation, transportation and deploying volunteers. In all, we are a bit slow and need to work on a war footing.
The National Sports Council got its leadership on July 6. Will the change affect Nepal's preparations for SAG?
I take the change in a positive light because the government quickly appointed a new member secretary immediately after the post was vacant. I think preparations of the Games will run more smoothly and in a well-managed way under the new member secretary because he is not a new face to Nepali sports.
The Budget Formation Task Force Committee of the SAG Preparation and Management Committee has proposed a huge budget of 5.26 billion. Are the enormous estimates practical?
An event like South Asian Games is beneficial to us and we need not compare it in terms of monetary value. It is associated with national pride and the state should not consider the budget as massive. The event will also have multiple benefits. The Games is a tool to send across positive messages about the country which has gone through many ups and downs over the past decades. As the country was facing an internal conflict for a long time, successfully organising the event will definitely disseminate the message that Nepal is back to normal. This could in turn benefit the tourism industry in the country which is hosting ‘Visit Nepal Year 2020.’
The budget you are talking about is only an estimation. The actuals will be known only after all the committees for SA Games work out their financial parts minutely. The budget is prepared by a committee based on assumption and some of the aspects may also have been overlooked. The clear figure will be known only after all the committees start functioning.
Moreover, it is a traditional concept that investing in sports is a waste. In fact, investments in sports is investment in human health. Along with urbanisation, human beings are facing new challenges for healthy living. Creating new sports infrastructures for such events will have positive impacts on physical and mental health of communities. The Games will also play an effective role to unite the country and various communities.
The primary duty of the Olympic Committee is to coordinate government bodies [National Sports Council and the Ministry of Youth and Sports] during international sports meets. How is the coordination so far?
The coordination, so far, has been good. In a sports meets, like for example the South Asian Games, the executive head of the Sports Council has a bigger role to play. Until a few months ago, the entire Sports Council was busy organising the National Games and after that there was a kind of vacuum as the member secretary’s post remained vacant for two weeks. I reiterate that there is some delay in preparation of the Games. However, following the appointment of the new member secretary, works are under way in full swing. I hope the coordination and preparation work will gain momentum.
You are also a parliamentarian. What have your efforts been towards the betterment of Nepali sports?
Parliament is a place to formulate necessary laws. I am also a member of the Parliamentary Committee of Youth, Sports, Education and Health. Our duty is to supervise whether the plans of the government are implemented and enquire the government. I was also the coordinator of the sports sub-committee under the Ministry of Youth and Sports. After conducting a study and holding discussions at the committee, we have prepared a report on how to develop Nepali sports, ensure the future of players and make sports result-oriented. We have also directed the Ministry of Youth and Sports to implement those suggestions. The new Sports Act is set to be introduced in the near future, but we are yet to inspect and see how the suggestions are being implemented.
What is your agenda and focus after being re-elected as the president of the Nepal Olympic Committee for a second term?
I will try to give momentum to the Olympic movement throughout the country. My focus will also be to establish autonomy in sports associations and make the 13th South Asian Games a grand success.
There are 192 sports associations registered at the Sports Council, but only 27 member associations at Nepal Olympic Committee. Even many Olympic Games are not registered. You are blamed for issuing memberships only to those games that favour your constituency. Can you explain this?
As per our norms, each sports association must represent an Olympic game and should be recognised by respective international federations for identification by the Nepal Olympic Committee. There are very few associations, like you said. Some associations have been recognised in my tenure and they shall be registered at the Nepal Olympic Committee, if they fulfill all the norms. There is not a single association that has been barred from getting membership of Nepal Olympic Committee due to [my] political reasons.