Hail Blatter (and ANFA)!

Sometime in the evening of International Women’s Day 2012, FIFA President, Joseph S Blatter wrote a message on internet microblogging site, Twitter, “Just opened AFC Challenge Cup match between Nepal and Palestine. Historic encounter, shows the power of football.”

Truly, it was a historic moment. For Nepal was hosting FIFA President first time in about 3 decades, and the highest level of tournament it has played so far.

If you were a part of the crowd in the floodlit Dashrath Stadium, or watched it on TV, it would have been difficult not to be emotional. Not only because the hosts were playing, but also because the only international stadium we have, appeared clean – spick and span – with crowd behaving well.

That must’ve been the reason behind Blatter saying – in his tournament opening speech – “Football is education, emotion, passion and also fair play, discipline and respect. Your FA President Ganesh Thapa is doing a great job here.”

That must be the shot in the arm that ANFA needs. For once, we saw that an international level tournament can be organized in the Nepali capital, just after a week had passed since a major bomb explosion, a few kilometers away from the stadium. In some ways it was proven that ANFA can organize, given that it wants to, a championship with proper security and facilities.

But that also raises some questions. How long can we do with only one stadium? For the football lovers would remember the condition of Dashrath Stadium pitch during the domestic league. Imagine, if we had more than one good stadium, what position would we be in, while bidding to host a tournament of international standard?

We should also note that our next door neighbor, India is targeting to bid for U-17 World Cup. It doesn’t take a genius to understand what effect hosting championships would have on football development here. Championships, apart from raising the standard of our own players through competition, also help in attracting viewers to the sport. It attracts young minds to the game and increases the number of prospective players.

For many, it was also a comforting sight to see leaders of major political parties sharing the platform with Blatter. For once they were standing for a common cause. Hopefully, they also felt a sense of national pride that the thousands of football fans carried in their hearts and sleeves. Hopefully, it would have opened their eyes on the prospect. For they would do well to remember that around 400 people, representing 7 teams, FIFA and AFC representatives have come to Nepal. They will be going back to their countries with an image of Nepal. We have already missed the bus in Tourism Year 2011, where we saw nothing done at the political level for infrastructural development of sports. We can take a lesson from this: Coverage of FIFA President arriving in Nepal has overshadowed all the adverts and promotional campaigns of Tourism Board. Imagine what would happen if we have such coverage in international media, regularly?

Blatter’s predecessor João Havelange had visited Nepal when present ANFA President Ganesh Thapa’s elder brother Kamal Thapa (now a politician) was ANFA President, in 1983/84. Thapa Senior recalls Havelange’s visit fondly, saying, “He was very happy and positive.”

Now, we’ve seen that Blatter expressed his happiness through his speech at the inaugural and his tweets, about coming to Nepal.

ANFA officials, especially the President – who also happens to be the Vice President at AFC – should do well to cash on the goodwill. We’ve already seen that if ANFA wants, it can deliver.

Moreover, this week also marks the 25th year of the biggest sports tragedy in Nepal, which happened at the Dashrath Stadium, killing 80 plus people. This is about time we clean the scars, with a fresh start.

(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly sports column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post, on 10th March, 2012)

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