U-13 selections show great promise, but also challenges in grassroot football


Kathmandu, Apr. 11: Football is the most loved sport in Nepal even when it is neither the national sport nor the most successful one as cricket. However, despite the unparalleled craze, Nepal’s football has not reached the expected heights. 

Nepal ranks 178th among 210 countries in the FIFA Men’s World Ranking and 100th among 193 countries in the FIFA Women’s World Ranking. 

Many blame the concerned authorities for their inability to identify young talents and train them for the national team as the major reason that the country’s football is far behind compared to the global scenario.

Meanwhile, in a bid to produce professional and skilful footballers and improve the country’s standing in global football, the governing body of football in Nepal, the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA), has started focusing on the grassroots.

On February 29, the ANFA directed the 48 registered district football associations and seven provincial football associations to conduct a selection process for boys and girls under 13 years of age in their respective districts and provinces. 

The ANFA had directed the authorities to conduct the district-level selections on March 28 to April 4 and the provincial-level selections on April 6-12.

Thousands of aspiring footballers participated in the district-level selections and hundreds of them have been chosen for provincial-level selections. 

“The footballers selected by the provincial associations will arrive in Kathmandu for the final selections to be held on April 15-22. We plan to select around 30 male and female footballers and create two good national-level teams for both genders,” said Suresh Shah, spokesperson for ANFA.

Promise in grassroots

According to several district football associations’ members, the craze of football in children during the U13 selections was mesmerising. 

Biraj Bhakta Shrestha, Minister for Youths and Sports, has also praised the step of ANFA to identify future stars. “I felt happy seeing the future stars of the country being prepared,” wrote Minister Shrestha on his Facebook after visiting the U-13 selection process in Bagmati, Sarlahi, on April 6.

“We had announced to organise the selection process in Kakarbhitta on April 5. Over 500 boys and around 40 girls came for the selections from different parts of the district. Since there were many candidates, we had to conduct a second round of selection to shortlist fewer children,” said Sher Bahadur Basnet, general-secretary at the Jhapa District Football Association.

Jhapa has chosen 58 boys and 17 girls for the provincial-level selections in Koshi that started at the ANFA’s Technical Centre in Dharan on Wednesday. Likewise, the Ilam District Football Association has shortlisted 53 boys and nine girls for Dharan.

“Children love football. It was in their faces during the selection process. Many parents had also come and they expressed the desire to see their children represent the country in the global stage. We could see that our national, if not the district’s, football is in safe hands,” said Basnet. “We could see a good number of participants because Jhapa has a good connection with football. As Jhapa’s society respects football, we have been seeing a rise in the number of children playing football,” Basnet added.

Challenges persist

Not all the districts have a recognised district football association; however, it is not based on geography. For instance, Jumla and Manang districts have football associations while districts like Kapilvastu and Parbat don’t.

Meanwhile, the challenges are different in different districts. 

“There were many children who came to the selections despite challenges. Some children did not have parents, some did not have money and some did not have a supportive family. However, they played football extremely well,” said Basnet.

Jhapa, being a more developed district than many others in the country, was able to see a good number of participants. However, the scenario was different in Jumla.

“Jumla is a high-altitude district with poor infrastructure in several sectors, including football. Only 72 boys came for the selection held in the only municipality of the district, Chandannath; there were no girls. We have selected 22 boys and referred them to the provincial selections taking place in Surkhet,” said Mahesh Budthapa, coach for the Jumla District Football Association.

While there were no girls in the district’s selection, Budthapa informed that Jumla has produced women footballers. “Three players playing for Karnali in the ongoing inter-provincial football tournament by Bagmati are from Jumla,” said Budthapa.

Nevertheless, Budthapa stressed that the association could not ensure that all the selected players reach Surkhet.

“Most of the selected boys are from Chandannath because those living in other rural municipalities cannot even afford to travel to the district headquarters. However, even not all those from Chandannath can also afford a trip to Surkhet for the provincial selections,” said Budthapa. “Jumla’s children are extremely fit physically as they live in high altitude. However, they lack technicality in football,” the coach said.

Good opportunity

No economic support has been provided to the children participating in the selection process; thus, an aspiring footballer should be able to cover every cost from his/her pocket. 

According to ANFA spokesperson Shah, they do not have enough resources to afford the transportation, food and lodging of every child. 

“Even the district and province-level selections have been conducted to ensure that parents are not forced to take their children to Kathmandu and spend thousands of rupees without any certainty,” said Shah.

Nevertheless, Shah informed that if a child is selected in the final selection, the ANFA will cover their education, lodging and food.

“The U-13 selection is to prepare a set of young talents and train them over the years as they progress to U-14, U-17, U-19 and finally the national team,” Shah added.

However, ANFA is not certain of conducting U-13 selections annually. “We will conduct such selections as per the necessity of players,” said Shah.

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