Nepal’s football gold a welcome distractionFor a country devastated by the earthquakes in April and May last year and widespread suffering brought along by India’s unofficial blockade, Nepali football team has given their countrymen something to cheer about.
For a country devastated by the earthquakes in April and May last year and widespread suffering brought along by India’s unofficial blockade, Nepali football team has given their countrymen something to cheer about.
Nepal beat perennial rivals India 2-1 in their own backyard to win football gold at the 12th South Asian Games on Monday. The victory ended a 23-year wait for gold in football at the regional Games.
It has come as a big relief to Nepali football that was dogged by corruption scandal and match-fixing of late.
On December 4, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) imposed a life ban on five Nepali footballers, including skipper Sagar Thapa, vice-captain Sandeep Rai and goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa, for their involvement in match-fixing.
On November 16 last year, Fifa banned All Nepal Football Association (Anfa) President Ganesh Thapa for 10 years from all football-related activities after the Ethics Committee of the game’s world governing body found his involvement in bribery and corruption scandals. Many football critics believe the ouster of Thapa from Anfa has brought about the success in international arena.
“Credit goes to the players for their remarkable performance but also to Fifa for its intervention to rid the game of menace game in Nepal,” said Purushottam Shrestha, who was at the helm of Anfa when Nepal were last crowned the SA Games champions in 1993.
“The recent results tell all the tales. We never had a dearth of football talent but he [Thapa] hand-picked players, depriving talents like Nawayug Shrestha of chances.”
Fifa’s action against Thapa, who had been at the Anfa helm since 1995, came at a time when corruption in football has been making headlines all over the world. The Fifa committee banned its president Sepp Blatter and Uefa head Michael Platini for eight years on December 21 last year, exposing the vicious network within the world football. Both men were cleared by the Ethics Committee of corruption charges but found guilty of a series of other breaches including a conflict of interest and dereliction of duty. Amid the storm of controversy, the Nepali football team under new captain Biraj Maharjan lifted the Bangabandhu Gold Cup in Dhaka on January 22. The 3-0 victory over U-23 Bahrain team in final was Nepal’s first international triumph since 1993.
And with Monday’s comeback victory over India, Nepal answered their critics who said Bangabandhu Gold Cup triumph was a “fluke”.
Karma Tsering Sherpa, who had been suspended by Thapa as Anfa vice-president, blamed the latter’s “totalitarian regime” for a long run of poor results in the past. “He used to meddle with every Anfa affair from a selection of squads to handing out instructions to coaches in the middle of a game,” said Sherpa, adding that Thapa’s ouster seemed to have relieved all the players, coaches and the management of unnecessary pressure. “At last, we can see our team is playing for the country rather than for the Anfa president.” he said.