Wins, losses and some fiascosHere’s a rundown of the major events of the year in Nepali sports, on and off the field.
The maiden appearance of the Nepali men's team in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship final in nearly three decades, the international retirement of one of the greatest on and off the field cricketers of the country Paras Khadka, followed by a controversy in the Cricket Association of Nepal were among the major highlights of the year in Nepali sports. The year ended with the national women’s team defending the AVC Central Central Zone Volleyball Challenge Cup.
The Nepali football team capped the most successful period in men's history under the guidance of controversial Kuwaiti coach Abdullah Almutairi. They entered the sub-continental SAFF Championship final for the first time in 28 years since the tournament's inception in 1993. However, South Asian giants India shattered Nepal's dream of lifting the SAFF trophy for the first time, inflicting a 3-0 defeat in the final held in Colombo in October.
They lost twice against India, including a 1-0 defeat in the group stage. Nepal had never made it to the final in the last 12 editions of the biennial games which started in 1993. Nepal's best run in the tournament dates back to 1995, 2011, 2013 and 2018 when they were knocked out in the semi-finals.
Apart from the success on the field, the controversy surrounding Kuwaiti coach Almutairi rocked the football fraternity. The outspoken and active social networking site user, appointed for a year-long tenure in April under a grant of the Qatar Football Association, announced through his Facebook post in July that he was resigning, blaming the senior vice-president of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) for creating a mess.
Since then, he has announced he would be resigning thrice–twice on social media and the last time after Nepal’s entry into the SAFF final was confirmed. But it never happened. Instead, he inked a new contract extending his stay until the end of 2024. According to ANFA insiders, he signed a financially improved deal.
After his allegations against Nembang, the National Sports Council had formed a probe committee to resolve the dispute at the request of ANFA. The committee had concluded that Almutairi need to improve his professional behaviour and delete his controversial Facebook post in which he had blamed Nembang. But the post is yet to be deleted.
Nepali football also witnessed the first ever franchise football league–Nepal Super League–sanctioned by ANFA. Kathmandu Rayzrs owned by MAW Yamaha clinched the title in the seven-team contest played behind closed doors from April 24 to May 15 due to the Covid pandemic. Apart from African players, the tournament also featured footballers from countries like Spain, Egypt and Azerbaijan; and gave a taste of quality football to spectators reeling under the lockdown.
The National women’s football team suffered a huge blow after star striker Sabitra Bhandari picked up an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury during the National Women League in February. The all-time leading international scorer for the country with 38 goals underwent knee surgery in Qatar, and is expected to return to action in a couple of months.
In cricket, Paras Khadka’s unexpected retirement from the captaincy in 2018 followed by his international retirement in August raised many eyebrows. A day after announcing his retirement through Twitter in August, Khadka said at a press conference that he wanted to participate in the game’s management. He even stated that he could join mainstream politics should he be successful in cricket governance.
After his retirement as captain, Khadka had said at a press conference, “I wanted to take a break as a captain, mentor, selector and contact person with the ICC for some time. I now wish to play and contribute as a player. But, of course, it depends on the selection committee, the coach and the team for me to play in."
Khadka’s deputy’s Gyanendra Malla, promoted to captain, and three other cricketers–vice-captain Dipendra Singh Airee, Sompal Kami and Kamal Singh Airee–were punished earlier this month for violating the code of conduct as they publicly expressed dissatisfaction over the players' grading.
Their punishment is that they will not be offered central contracts for the first six months of 2022, according to the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN). Apart from that, Malla and Dipendra Sing were also stripped of the captaincy and vice-captaincy.
CAN officials allege there was a conspiracy on the part of the players for expressing their dissatisfaction. “Everyone knows who ran CAN while it was suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) from 2016 to 2019. They are the ones behind the players' fiasco,” CAN President Chaturd Bahadur Chand said recently.
World Cup winning cricket coach Dav Whatmore, appointed to lead Nepal for a year-long tenure in January, announced his resignation from the hot seat in August. Though he had cited the Covid-19 pandemic and family problems for deciding to quit, he left for India to take charge of the Baroda Cricket Association which plays in the Ranji Trophy.
Whatmore guided Nepal to the title in the Tri-Nation Series between Nepal, Malaysia and the Netherlands. Nepal won three among four double round-robin league before defeating the Netherlands in the final.
Following Whatmore’s departure, Nepal reappointed Sri Lankan-born Canadian Pubudu Dassanayake as the head coach. Dassanayake had guided Nepal to the World T20 in 2014 during his first stint from 2011 to 2015. He arrived in Nepal for a two-year tenure on Tuesday.
Nepal sent a 26-member delegation that included only five athletes to the Summer Olympics, delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and held in July and August in Japan. Like in the past 12 editions, this time too Nepal returned empty-handed as expected.
Though there was no infighting between sports officials for the Tokyo Olympics tour, a marathon runner's exclusion a month prior to the Games rocked the country's sports fraternity. He had won the Nepalganj Marathon, the event authorised as the long-distance race qualifiers for the Olympics in November 2020, and had been preparing for the event since then.
After Parki won the Nepalganj Marathon, Nepal Olympic Committee President Jeevan Ram Shrestha and General Secretary Nilendra Shrestha, both of whom witnessed Parki’s feat, as well as Nepal Athletics Association President Rajiv Bikram Shah, had assured him of participation in the Tokyo Olympics. But he was prevented from participating at the last moment. Shah gave the excuse that the number of participants in the marathon had exceeded the quota, and his best timing fell short of the requirement to be considered for the quota.
In the first week of December, Nepali para taekwondo player Palesha Goverdhan won the first ever gold medal in the Asian Youth Para Games in Manama, Bahrain. Goverdhan edged out the Iranian opponent in the final to claim the gold medal in the K-44 category of the U-57kg weight category.
A change of the guard in national politics in July was followed by the sacking of National Sports Council Member-Secretary Ramesh Kumar Silwal in October. Silwal, appointed by the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli-led government for a four-year term in July 2020, was removed by the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government in October, alleging unsatisfactory performance.
In November, the government appointed Tanka Lal Ghising to the hot seat. But on December 15, the Supreme Court, acting on a writ petition filed by Silwal, issued a short-term interim order to reinstate him. Since then, the office of the executive head of the council has been closed, putting the apex sports body into turmoil with two chiefs wedged into one post, but neither of them functioning practically.
However, at the end of the year, the women’s volleyball team gave reason to be happy by retaining the AVC Asian Central Zone Women's Volleyball Challenge Cup in Dhaka on Tuesday. The team led by Captain Aruna Shahi defeated Uzbekistan in a five-set thriller; but the men’s team finished fourth in the second tier volleyball tournament of Asian countries.
En route to the final, Nepal had overcome the first two sets deficit against Sri Lanka in the opening game to win in 3-2 sets while they pulled off straight sets wins over Maldives, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the league stage. In the last edition, Nepal had not lost a single set; but they were made to struggle for a 3-2 sets win in two matches this time.