Race against timeAthletics coach Dhani Ram Chaudhary has vivid memories of how the Dashrath Stadium looked like an international sporting venue when he took to the track for a 400m race during the eighth SAF Games in 1998.
Athletics coach Dhani Ram Chaudhary has vivid memories of how the Dashrath Stadium looked like an international sporting venue when he took to the track for a 400m race during the eighth SAF Games in 1998. “It looked wonderful from every aspect. A lush green football ground with a perfect surface, a new synthetic track and the polished parapets had completely transformed the stadium,” Chaudhary reminisces.
Currently the 46-year-old Chaudhary is overseeing four Maldivian long distance runners who have come to Nepal to prepare for the upcoming Dubai Marathon. Sitting in the players’ dug-out, Chaudhary watches the athletes run on the synthetic track, which is now faded and tattered in places. Eighteen years after he ran to a fifth place finish at the SAF Games, Dashrath Stadium wears a perennially deserted look.
“Now, it just looks really frustrating,” Chaudhary says, reflecting on the poor condition of Nepal’s only international stadium, “There is no question that runners should not be practicing here, but they have no other options. When the track was changed in 1998, the entire stadium looked great; we had thought that this facility would be maintained. But the story is completely different here.”
It had taken decades for Nepal to get its first ever multi-purposive Dashrath Stadium, whose construction began before the coronation of late king Mahendra in 1956. After several stages of construction, the Stadium was finally completed in 1980. Its first major sporting event was the first National Games in 1981.
The ground floor of most of the Stadium structure is currently home to more than a dozen sports associations—most of them martial arts disciplines—that double up as training and events venues. At the north east side of the Stadium was the National Sports Council (NSC) office which has now been demolished. Beside it stands the Covered Hall, which is used for different sports events, including basketball, volleyball, and badminton.
The stadium, which had been in various states of disrepair over the past two decades, suffered significant damage, particularly to its VIP pavilion, during the 2015 earthquakes. At the time, the stadium was already awaiting reconstruction. Dashrath Stadium received its last major facelift in 1998, a year before Nepal hosted the 1999 South Asian Federation Games—now the SAG.
But following the earthquake, Dashrath Rangashala’s sorry state has come into sharp focus as Nepal gears up to host the 13th South Asian Games in 2019. The games, which are a shade over 22 months away, now appear increasingly ambitious, considering the snail-paced reconstruction of the national stadium—a conundrum that has repeatedly made headlines in the past few months.
Responding to media reports on the dilapidated conditions at the Stadium—covered in places with bushes over six feet tall—the then-Youth and Sports Minister, Daljit Sripali, accompanied several workers in September last year for an impromptu cleanup. The fact that the stadium needed a comprehensive long-term vision and a concrete plan for rebuilding—and not just a cosmetic makeover—however, seemed lost on the minister.
Last month, Sripali was replaced by Nepali Congress leader Rajendra Kumar KC after a government reshuffle. In a speech he delivered two days after taking over the Ministry, KC promised the construction of seven central stadiums in each of the country’s seven provinces. In what seemed an excerpt from a populist election manifesto, the minister, while promising brand new sports facilities in the future, omitted any mention of maintaining and repurposing existing infrastructures like the Dashrath Stadium.
This comes at the face of athletes, coaches and other stakeholders becoming increasingly nervous about the upcoming SA Games.
Originally initiated by Nepal, the SA Games began with its first edition in 1984 in Kathmandu and currently brings together athletes from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan to a single platform in multiple disciplines. The SA Games not only brings together the top athletes from the region but—like other major sporting extravaganzas—also provides an opportunity for the host nation to flaunt its progress and prosperity. Currently, the SA Games is the only sporting jamboree that Nepal can host, given its limited venues and resources.
However, with the significant damages to sports infrastructures following the 2015 earthquakes and the lethargic response shown by officials tasked with its upkeep, Nepal is currently in a race against time to execute the highly ambitious plan of holding the regional meet in the country for the third time. On the day of the April 25 earthquake, Nepal and Bangladesh were preparing for the final of the AFC U-16 Girls’ Festival of Football. After the match was called off, the stadium has not hosted any international or domestic football tournaments on its pitch.
Six months ago, National Sports Council (NSC), the supreme body for sports in the country, had initiated reconstruction work at the stadium. But apart from dust and debris collected at the northern block of the public parapet and the work on a planned roof, scant progress has been made.
The Head Engineer for NSC’s Construction and Maintenance Department, Arun Upadhyaya, confirms that the sports’ governing body looks set to struggle to complete the national stadium in time for the SA Games. “Government procedure for any type of construction project is a lengthy affair. Beginning with the announcement of the tender to handing over the work, it takes at least one-and-half-month just to get the ball rolling,” says Upadhyaya, indicating the reconstruction works is failing to gather pace.
So, if the NSC or the government is to complete the reconstruction of the stadium on time, it must work on a tight schedule, according to Upadhyaya.
“We are almost done with the demolition work of other structures around the Stadium premises. If we begin the demolition of the VIP stands and few sections of the public stands, it will take us another three months. From there on, we would require another 18 months to reconstruct the stadium. But if there is a government reshuffle or any other sort of delay, we may not be able to meet the deadline,” he says.
The newly elected Youth and Sports Minister Rajendra Kumar KC claims that the government, in coordination with NSC, is set to complete the reconstruction on time, even though his ministry is already making contingency plans. “If we fast track it, then there is no doubt we can host the South Asian Games. But we can also look into other options like building a fabricated, temporary structure which would take very little time to construct,” KC told the Post. Nine months ago, a SA Games organising committee under the chairmanship of the then-Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was formed but it never held a meeting to discuss about how the country was going to prepare for the event.
National football team midfielder Bikram Lama, who wants to see his country win a consecutive SA Games gold, says any delay will have a marked negative impact. “If we cannot manage to complete our preparation in time, we will defame ourselves at the international arena,” says Lama.
“SA Games is an event where the entire country is involved: the players, officials and the government and it is attached with our national pride as well. We might end up looking as though not capable of executing responsibilities we took up ourselves,” he warns.