EDITORIAL: Keep it up, players

With investment, rigorous training and infrastructure development, Nepali players could pull quite a few surprises in international meets

Nepal began on a winning streak in the South Asian Games (SAG), with a rich harvest of 15 golds on a single day on Monday, making the feat just as spectacular as the grand opening ceremony on Sunday. The rich haul was made in martial arts events, namely taekwondo and karate, which raked in seven golds each, and one in triathlon. At a time when things look depressing on all fronts, the striking achievement is definitely something to cheer about. The SAG began a day after by-elections were held for 52 vacant posts at all levels of the government on Saturday. And even if it is for a brief period, people’s attention has been diverted from the country’s politics to the regional sports event. The rich gold haul is a big morale booster for the Nepali participants in the SAG, and it is likely to build pressure on the other players to perform equally well. Martial arts apart, there are many medals up for grabs in other individual events, such as swimming and athletics.

The stunning performance by our players in karate and taekwondo is especially applaudable in that these martial arts sports are seeing a revivalism after facing a downturn over the decades. Way back in 1999, when Nepal hosted the SAG for the second time, Nepal had won 31 gold medals, which included 14 each in karate and taekwondo. But after that, Nepal’s overall performance in the SAG took a nosedive with the sapping of the medals in karate. India did not include karate in the 12th SAG held in 2016, and Nepal saw its worst performance with just three golds since the first 1993 SAF Games. Nepal’s performance in all SAG events shows that its forte lies in individual events, namely martial arts. Taekwondo delivered a silver medal for Nepal in the Asian Games while two Nepali taekwondo players qualified to participate in the Olympics.

Nepal’s sportspersons are performing against all odds, given that their practice faced one obstacle after another right upto the last moment. For instance, the necessary gear requested by the wushu players months back never arrived, and the shanshou players were making do with boxing gloves, hard karate mats and taekwondo pads and guards for training. Shooters, too, were practising with old arms and ammunition. The venue of the opening ceremony and many of the sports events, the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu, just managed to be ready for the Games, depriving our athletes and other sportsmen from practising there even when the SAG was taking place on their home ground. The SAG that began on December 1 will last till the 10th. It remains to be seen how Nepal will fare in the overall medal tally as it faces tough competition in other individual events and team sports. Altogether seven countries are participating in the SAG, as Afghanistan has stayed away even though it is a member of SAARC. Afghanistan’s presence might have posed a big challenge to nearly all the countries of the region, an example of how good training and funds can help develop sports even in a country torn by war. With a sizeable investment, rigorous training and infrastructure development, Nepali players could also pull quite a few surprises in international meets, not limited to the SAG.

Be generous

The long wait is finally over for British national Colin Philip Smith, aka Putali Baje, to become a Nepali citizen, as the government awarded him honorary citizenship on Monday. The government’s move, however, comes a little too late, as Putali Baje, who has dedicated more than 55 years of his life to Nepal, is already in his 80s. Yet it sends a positive signal to foreigners, who have devoted their lives to Nepal, to work selflessly for the betterment of this country. Nepal introduced a legal provision on honorary citizenship around 13 years ago. But very few have had the privilege to get it.

If persons of exceptional merit are treated this way, it will discourage foreigners, who are passionate about Nepal, to commit themselves to Nepali causes. Putali Baje, for example, arrived in Nepal as a staff of the United Mission, but decided to stay here after completion of his tenure. The butterfly lover then became a teacher and contributed in shaping the future of people like former premier Baburam Bhattarai and late Dr Upendra Devkota. The government should strive to spot talents -- whether Nepali or foreign. This is important in an age where innovation is key to progress in every sector.