Less than a fortnight ago, Pashupati Paneru reclaimed the men’s singles title at the Krishna Mohan Memorial Badminton Championship. The title got him richer by half a hundred thousand rupees, which is not bad for a singles event in Nepal.
But that’s not the point. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru was a lost face in Nepali sports for a while. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru had gone to USA, looking for greener pastures. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru is back. The point is, that Pashupati Paneru is back with a bang.
Even greater point is that the shuttler in question here remained out of competitive badminton for 3 years and came back to win a national level championship without much competition. (He won the final in straight sets)
Now that does not speak well for our sports sector.
Paneru is not the first national level sportsman that took a trip to a foreign land, in search of better life. Nor will he be the last one. For, sportsmen, like us, are human beings. Apart from professional success, like us, they want a better life. A life where they don’t have to stay awake overnight for water supply… A life where they don’t have to wait for electricity for hours on end, just to be able to watch TV…
Paneru might have his personal reasons for opting out – along with him we’d lost two other badminton players. But when he came back, he was not younger than before. For any player in mid-30s, it’s not easy to make a comeback (Remember, Nepali sportsmen hide their age by at least a couple of years). Of course, there are some super human players who shine well past the age others hang up their boots. But we can’t forget that for every Sachin Tendulkar that amazes analysts, there are Suresh Rainas and Keiron Pollards, who nudge the podium for others to step aside. Yes, there are stalwarts in every game. But there are budding stars too. And Pashupati Paneru is no superman, although he’s a fine talent, even maybe among the best that we’ve had.
The sad thing is, the apparent dearth of talent can be seen in other sports too. Tashi Tsering, the Manang Marshyangdi star, was named the best player in recently concluded British Gorkha Cup football. Tashi is hardly a newcomer. He’s on the other side of mid-30s (he doesn’t even lie about it), and possibly holds less prospect of playing for Nepal than a rookie who’s just entered his club and is in 20s.
Both the cases create a noise that some of us might choose to ignore. Paneru’s win and Tashi’s achievement demand celebration, but they also serve us a notice. A notice that we’re not witnessing the budding heroes. A notice that those who will push the game forward, the youngsters, are not visible. And they should also serve as a warning: Is our talent pool is drying up?
Hats off, to both the stalwarts for proving their mettle. Their love for their games show that hard work pays. And also brings success. But it also raises a question: Where is the competition?
This is one question our sports authorities should ignore at their own peril. What will they do, if the talent pool dries up? What will they manage?
Over the years, a lot has been said on building sports academies and sustaining sports. But sadly, this has not been happening. The sparse crowd at most major competitions, barring a few, shows that we don’t have much youngsters taking up to sports. The dwindling fan base should be a cause of worry, for the fan base ensures the competitors take up to the arena, with a dream to light it up.
While lauding the success of Pashupati Paneru and Tashi Tsering, we should also try to think, who would we applaud, 5 years from now?