The Politics of Sport

Not long ago, our Finance Minister dropped a bombshell on sports fraternity. Of course, like any other politician, he wasn’t thinking sports while talking. Rather, like any other politician, his reasons were political.

The Finance Minister said that Nepal may not be participating in the 16th Asiad, in Guangzhou, China, this November. He said, if the government cannot bring in budget before the festivals, it will not have any money to spend for the participation. His logic, albeit founded on political premises, sounds very simple. His explanation was, ‘what is the point of nation’s pride when there are dangers nation may not remain so’.

Bravo, Mister Minister!  Bull’s eye!
Why would we want to participate, if we don’t remain the nation that we are? But then, the question is – are we really headed to that direction? And in case, even if we have a slightest chance to remain as a nation – contrary to what you may fear – why not participate?
For the minister, the agenda could be opportunity to present yet another budget. But for anyone, who’s played a sport at any level, the speech was unacceptable. Just by saying, participation may not be possible, he’s hurt the morale of all those who dreamt of making a mark at the highest level in Asia. Many have already said it on telly, how hurt their spirits are. The enthusiasm went a notch lower. And those working with athletes will tell you, it’s the spirit that gets you glory on the field, not mere ability.
These athletes have helped in hoisting the Nepali flag on foreign soils 14 times – 13 for bronze medals and once for a silver – since Asiad began in 1951. How many political contingents have achieved that so far? Ask Sabita Rajbhandari, silver medalist at 1998 Asiad, about her proudest moment in life. She’ll tell you it was the moment her country’s flag was being hoisted; the moment few more decided to take up the sport, thinking they too, could bring glory to the country.
The Finance Minister has hurt that spirit, by bringing doubts in the sportspersons’ minds. But one thing that goes in his favor is that he was trying to aware the powers that be, of the worst case scenario. For that, Thank You Mister Minister, even if you’ve treaded a wrong path.
But one has to remember, even when there were proper budgets were the norm, sport always got it at last. The National Games held in 2009 got its complete budget mere 3 days before the event. 3 days! Imagine that for the biggest sporting festival in the country. And it could not be a coincidence that the players were at the receiving end, getting inferior products to use (We’re not even talking about the over invoicing of the goods supplied). For Nepali participation in South Asian Games too, the complete budget was not released till the eleventh hour.
This is where the government provision for demanding bids to supply sport goods comes in. According to provisions, the government agencies have to demand for bids with a margin of 35 days. The same process cannot be completed if the margin is just a week or less than a month. If budget does not come on time, there’s no bidding and the number of suppliers automatically goes down, thereby decreasing the possibility of competitive quotations. Then the sports authorities have to contact those who have goods ready to be supplied in a day or two. This is exactly where the grey marketers come into play. Those at the helm of sport governing bodies have long been accused of nexus with these kinds of suppliers.
It would be difficult to say if the budget is never cleared on time with the very intention of foul play. But it can be safely said that the situation can be improved by breaking the cycle.
Our athletes may get a chance to compete at Asian Games. They may also try to improve upon the haul of 3 bronze from the last edition.

But the question for the Finance Minister is – Sir, do you see where the problems are? Both in your speech and the system.
(The article originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post, 11th September, 2010, in a weekly column of Yours Truly) 

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