Two Episodes: Two Years

Yubaraj Lama has completed two years in the hot seat, that of Member Secretary at the National Sports Council. That’s a pretty long time, if you take into account the transition Nepal seems to be in. That’s a pretty long time, if you know that Lama has worked with 3 Prime Ministers – Chairman of the Ministerial Council means exactly the same as a PM – and 6 Sports Ministers during his tenure.

Labeling his term as a success or failure would depend on what did you expect, at the start of his tenure. Yours truly had asked him, right when he assumed the post, why was he back in sports after almost a two decade hiatus. And he had said that he was selected on the basis of his working plan presented to party leadership. Yes, it would only be fair to remember that he was chosen to head the most powerful authority in Nepali Sports by the political party that was in power then. No need to name the party.

Many would term 6th National Games as highlight of Lama’s tenure as Member Secretary of NSC. For all good words about taking nation’s biggest sports festival to mofussil, I believe, that is regular job of the head of the institution and does not deserve acclamation. Plus, the games were tainted with corruption allegation on several officials, which does not make it worthy of citation. For me, two episodes mark Yubaraj Lama’s leadership. One where he hit the crest; one where he touched the trough.

Yubaraj Lama: Acting whimsically, or trying to stamp authority?
Yubaraj Lama: Acting whimsically, or trying to stamp authority?

Episode 1: Lama’s work plan (presented to the party leadership) included starting a sports academy or a sports college (that was the term he had used then). The plan might not have been implemented so far, but we can see some whiff of it. The First National School Sports (Junior Championship) can be called a start, if not meeting the objective. If I were to rate Lama’s tenure, I would say this is the best thing that has happened so far. This endeavor shows that there is an intent; an intent to develop.

‘Catch ’em Young’ is an old adage and has been successful over years in most countries that top the ranking across sports. In absence of sports academies, school sports could be one way to tap talent spread around the country. Additionally, the NSC initiated activity has partnership from 3 of the school bodies, PABSON, NPABSON and HISSAN. This means that the whole effort has better chance of having continuity in the future. This deserves praise.

We cannot but forget that Lama is a product of a system; a system that has, for long, seen sports as a tool to extend political leverage. Lama was appointed by a political party. So were his predecessors. And it was only expected that there would be political appointments at the NSC, and in this case there were no surprises.

Episode 2: It is commendable that Lama himself admitted his mistakes during a press meet organized to mark his stay at the ‘throne’, of dissolving Athletics Association and not being able to do anything for Olympic Committee conflict. What he did not mention was: A year ago, he signed a letter demanding clarification from ANFA President Ganesh Thapa, over the case of money given to his son – an AFC employee then – by the then AFC chief and tainted football official now, Mohammed bin Hammam. In Lama’s own words, the letter was signed by him but not sent to ANFA, after consultation with legal advisors. What remains a mystery is: How can a Member Secretary of NSC sign a letter without consulting such advisors first? And how did it get leaked to a television station?

This episode is the lowest point of Lama’s tenure. For, this episode questions his leadership skills and not only intent. It shows tendency of making whimsical decisions, which Nepali sports is ill prepared for.

At the onset of his third year of leadership, he has made promises again. We won’t judge him on that. We’d have him judged on the basis of performance.

Yet, I’d give Lama an A-plus, for acting on his belief of ‘grooming youngsters’, if not through academy, through youth sports activity. And lest we forget, he could also be lauded for keeping the players in camps for longer than any other member-secretary, in preparation of next South Asian Games.

PS: This write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post on 15th June, 2013

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