The error-riddled National Games fall flatLack of infrastructure, poor management, little local ownership, and avoidable errors play spoilsport.
The primary goal of the National Games, when it began four decades ago in 1982, was to build multiple sports infrastructure at the same venue and give exposure to the most talented players of all regions of the country to prepare them for international meets.
But the Ninth National Games held from October 14 to 20 in Gandaki Province not only diluted this goal, but also saw conflict between the provincial and central bodies of the National Sports Council as well as the Sports Ministry.
Poor management of the games and sports venues, the organisers’ violation of basic norms of some games, lack of ownership by locals, disciplinary issues and death of paraglider Nisim Thapa were among the other dampers.
Yet there were also positives: the promises shown by some athletes and new national records. During the games, athletics saw 10 new national records with Som Bahadur Kumar eclipsing a 28-year-old mark.
Yet the overall mood was undoubtedly sombre.
“Not a single sports infrastructure was built during the games as most events were held at the same facilities in Pokhara, Kaski that had hosted the 19th South Asian Games (SAG), said Khem Bahadur Gurung, a member of the Second National Games Organising Committee for the event held in Pokhara in 1984. “One of the major objectives of the National Games has always been to develop good sports infrastructure in host areas. Right now, this ultimately translates to having such infrastructure in all seven provinces.”
The organisers however claimed that they have indeed upgraded some facilities. Apart from Kaski, the games were also held in Parbat, Baglung, Myagdi, Syangja, Nawalpur, Tanahun and Gorkha of Gandaki. Even so, besides Kaski, no new infrastructures were built in other districts.
“The games were a total failure in terms of infrastructure development. It could have been organised in Kathmandu if its purpose was only competition among athletes. The organising body National Sports Council [NSC] wanted to hold the games at any cost,” said Gurung. He also pointed to lack of coordination between the National Sports Council (centre), the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Gandaki chapter of the NSC.
“The problem, I assume, is that CPN (Maoist Centre) leads both the federal-level NSC as well as the ministry. But the provincial body is led by Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders,” said Guruing. “There is a lack of trust between the central and provincial bodies. The NSC used not only technical manpower from the centre, they even hired sweepers from Kathmandu.”
Even during the opening ceremony with some spectacular firework displays, less than half the seats on the parapet were occupied. “There was little promotion. Even people of Pokhara did not know that the city was hosting the games,” Gurung added.
There were also weaknesses in venue management and technical areas. The work of laying grass for women’s football in Waling was delayed and was completed only a day before the inauguration. The delay meant players had to play on an uneven pitch, risking injuries. Such was also the state of the hockey ground for both men’s and women’s games. The ground was not ready until the scheduled kickoff.
The NSC failed to provide the sports kits (jersey sets) to the women's hockey teams of Sudurpaschim and Province 1 on time. Province 1 women players were forced to borrow jerseys from their male counterparts.
Men’s volleyball that took place in Pokhara was conducted on an old mat which injured many players. The mat was later removed and the game was played on natural turf.
There were also technical glitches during the football and swimming competitions. The same teams played on consecutive days by going against international football rules: there needs to be a gap of at least 48 hours between games, as per FIFA standards.
Swimming saw a total of 15 national records in the games with Tribhuvan Army Club swimmer Duana Lama claiming nine golds, with five new national records set. The records, however, will not be valid as the swimming pool of Fishtail Academy that hosted the event was later found sub-standard.
“The pool length was three inches shorter than the standard set by world swimming governing body, FINA,” said Prachanda Sharma, the secretary of the games’ technical sub-committee.
The National Games saw participation of 11 teams — seven provinces, Nepal Police, Nepal Army and Armed Police Force (APF), along with Non Resident Nepali Association. As many as 6,127 athletes took part: 3,414 males and 2,713 females. The Games featured 44 events and eight exhibition events.
The dominant Army once again defended their winners’ crown, winning 172 gold, 110 silver and 89 bronze to finish ahead of APF that secured 65 gold, 72 silver and 82 bronze medals.