Hectic schedule imperils footballers’ careerDauphins Family of Cameroon beat Nepal Police Club in the sudden death penalty shootout in the final of the Tilottama Gold Cup on February 25 in Butwal.
Dauphins Family of Cameroon beat Nepal Police Club in the sudden death penalty shootout in the final of the Tilottama Gold Cup on February 25 in Butwal. Astonishingly the two teams were on the pitch to face each other again the very next day in the Aaha-Rara Gold Cup in Pokhara.
Manang Marshyangdi Club (MMC) lost to Chyasal Youth Club in the quarter-finals of Tilottama Gold Cup on February 28. Two days later, MMC were competing against Nepal APF Club in Aaha-Rara. Tribhuvan Army Club (TAC) made an arduous road trip from Bhutan to compete in Pokhara and they were playing against Himalayan Sherpa Club the very next day.
The competition pattern of six top-tier clubs has been somewhat similar ever since the end of the Martyrs Memorial ‘A’ Division League on January 8. Departmental teams Nepal Police Club (NPC), Nepal APF Club and Tribhuvan Army Club (TAC) along with Three Star Club, league champions MMC and Sankata have been travelling across the country—from Dhangadhi to Jhapa—to compete non-stop in knockout tournaments. Of the 14 top-tier teams Chyasal have also been a team in demand for such tournaments.
The Khaptad Gold Cup started in Dhangadhi the day MMC lifted the league title on January 8. Ever since, the nation has already witnessed nine knockout football tournaments with more yet to come. While NPC have participated in seven of them, Three Star, Army, APF and MMC have played in six. Sankata have so far featured in five of them.
Majority of the national team players come from these six teams barring a few like dynamic midfielder Rohit Chand and goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong who ply their trades abroad. Chand is represents Indonesian top-tier champions Persija Jakarta while Chemjong plays for Maldivian outfits TC Sports Club.
The fact that these clubs, except for Sankata, have contracted players for one year makes them favourite to get invitations for the knockout tournaments. Rest of the top-tier teams released their players at the end of the ‘A’ Division League. Sankata, however, have signed the players till mid April.
Around two-dozen knockout tournaments across the country meet the Grade ‘A’ criteria as per the football governing body, All Nepal Football Association’s (ANFA’s), evaluation. Each of these tournaments stretch from seven to 10 days and given that only six teams have players to compete they are certain to get invitations. What is luring these clubs to compete in a series of tournaments is the handsome paycheck they offer. Aaha-Rara Gold Cup offered Rs 800,000, Tilottama Golf Cup offered Rs 880,000, Pokhara Cup gave away 755,000 and Budha Subba Gold Cup handed over Rs 800000 to the champions. Khaptad Gold Cup offered Rs 2.1 million and Itahari Gold Cup handed over Rs 1.6 million to the winners. The eventual champions had to play three games at the most to lift the title.
The organisers of such tournaments are also obliged to call on big teams to draw greater number of spectators to stadiums. It also helps them lure sponsors for the tournament. The hectic schedule, however, meant players are prone to getting injured. As per the international practice, a team must get at least 48 hours rest before their next game. The clubs in Nepal are understandably blunting the trend for the lure of money in the absence of professional football setup.
Organisers of the Aaha-Rara Gold Cup and Sahara Club of Pokhara blame ANFA for haphazardly approving tournaments. “It is ANFA that approves the tournament date and they should be mindful of the break between two major tournaments,” said Sahara President Keshab Thapa, who stressed on the need to categorise tournaments while also creating environment whereby all the top-tier teams get chances to compete in such events.
Former Nepali international and Army coach Nabin Neupane also blames ANFA for its inability to devise a systematic calendar. He said a good relationship with the organisers meant they are reluctant to ignore invitations. “We skipped some tournaments to provide rest to our players. But we could not avoid others where we were the holders,” said Neupane who has often complained of the hectic schedule. “Tournaments are always good for the development of the game and the players. But it should be held systematically without jeopardizing players’ career,” said Neupane.
“The knockout tournaments started immediately after the conclusion of the ‘A’ Division League and we had to jump in without providing much needed rest to our players,” said Three Star President Arun Man Joshi. “The tournament organisers request us to play and we cannot turn them down due to our cordial relations,” added Joshi.
Sanjeev Mishra, the former development director at ANFA, also sees a big problem in the scheduling of knockout football tournaments. “Without proper rest and time to acclimatize to the local conditions, players cannot perform to their potential,” said Mishra. “It also put them at high risk of injury because they need recovery time between two matches. Players are prone to sustaining long-term and career-threatening injuries due to the hectic schedule. It is time for ANFA to take measures to monitor the Gold Cups and impose restriction on number of events a club can compete in a year,” added Mishra.
Nepali international and Three Star Club defender Ranjit Dhimal also complained on the hectic scheduling of tournaments. “The organisers need to manage schedule properly keeping in mind the welfare of footballers,” said Dhimal.
ANFA Vice President and coordinator of the tournament classification committee Krishna Thapa accepted the need to review ‘A’ Grade tournaments. “We must conduct a comprehensive study and set clear guidelines for Gold Cups and ensure participation of all ‘A’ Division teams rather than limiting it to certain clubs. ANFA must take measures to ensure proportionate participation of all ‘A’ Division teams as per the tournament grading,” said Thapa. Thapa, however, also sees positives of such tournaments which is becoming a major source of income for the clubs.