Sport is about excitement. Yet, it is also about monotony. The continuous quest for results and statistics make it boring, at times.
When Nepal faced India in the final of Women’s SAFF Cup 2012, we wanted a break in monotony. Having lost 2 finals to India already – both in 2010, in SAG and SAFF Cup – the fans wanted winner’s cup this time. And Nepali eves almost achieved it, getting the lead in the third minute of the match itself. However, the monotony of the sport prevailed, quashing all the hopes. Nepali women’s team had to be content with the status of runners-up, yet again. The tryst with the title had come after Nepali side scoring 23 goals, and conceding only one.
Despite the heart wrenching loss, one has to admit that Nepal women’s team has come a long way from where it started – as far as international tournaments are concerned. The first ever international tournament we played was way back in 1986, when the team was led by Rama Singh, who eventually went on to become media personality. That team played 3 matches at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, conceded 12 goals and scored none. We played again in 1989, and conceded 25, without scoring any.
In the last two years alone, Nepali women have scored 74 goals and conceded 10. Yes, we have not played Asian Cup, but the improvement is definitely there for everyone to see.
In early years of this century, an invitational tournament was held between women teams from Nepal, Singapore and Manipur (a province of India). During that, Manipur team had beaten Nepal’s national football team. And now, we are almost at par with the Indian national team. If this is not improvement, what is?
Upon the return of the team from Women’s SAFF Cup, team coach Kishor KC said that he’d underestimated the Indians. He stressed on the need of exposure for the players. A point that cannot be overstressed at all…
Nepali women’s football team is formed, based on one tournament in a year. And that too, is played on knock-out format. So even if you were a player with incalculable talent and were down with flu during that particular week of the year, you’re likely to stay out of the national team. How is that fair to the player and the national team? Some would say that we’re progressing despite the structure. But, if we can progress with this system, imagine what could be done, if proper women’s league is established, where the players play over a time – perhaps around 2 to 3 months – and team is selected from that bunch.
One can remember the tournament ‘Mangladevi League’, roughly a month-long women’s football tourney, trying to bring in women football players across the country. It was played in early 2000, in a league-cum-knockout basis. It was an initiative taken by a single person, and sadly discontinued after a year.
Regardless of desperate need for such a championship, the football governing body ANFA did not own it. A person may take initiatives, but it needs an institution to establish a system. The question is: If almost a month-long tournament was possible in 2000, why not now, especially with more money pouring in from sponsors and results improving for women?
If recent improvements do not mean much, yours truly would like to point out at another bit of statistics. Nepali captain Jamuna Gurung, who has tirelessly played football from 1999, has 24 international goals so far. The leading goal scorers for Nepal among men are: Hari Khadka and Nirajan Rayamajhi – both with 13 goals apiece.
This is not an effort to take anything away from Khadka and Rayamajhi, but purely an attempt to highlight the contribution of women footballers in keeping our heads high, at international circuit. Yes, we can say that they have mostly played in South Asian level and the competition is not intense. But players like Jamuna Gurung do not get to choose their opponents and they’re doing the best they can at the limited opportunity provided to them.
Hopefully, the third runner-up trophy will awaken football governing body, ANFA, and create a hunger for the winner’s trophy.
(PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 22nd September, 2012)