Tuesday, 3 August, 2021

Sports Making Gradual Comeback


Pramod Joshi

Domestic sports are making a gradual comeback as COVID-19 cases have ebbed significantly. The pandemic outbreak disrupted every sector around the globe and sports remained no exception. Owing to the pandemic, international and domestic tournaments were either postponed or cancelled as governments across the globe placed people's health on priority. The sports tournaments, which involved big money, however, made an early resumption, apparently to avoid the bankruptcy of tournament organisers, sponsors and others involved in them.
The widely followed European football tournaments, English Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga and cricket tournaments such as the Indian Premier League, Big Bash and a few others have resumed under strict bio-bubble environment, meaning stadiums where the tournaments were held kept shut for spectators. These sports meets are being held following a few months postponement to avoid losing billions of dollars coming from broadcasting rights.
Nepali sports, however, did not lose so much economically during the pandemic. Our domestic sports have not developed as an industry nor has it been commercialised in a profit-making way. Football, volleyball and cricket are the most popular and crowd-pulling sports in the country. However, they are also unable to make a profit despite being popular sports disciplines. Our government and the private sectors have not regarded sports as an economic sector despite sports being a multi-billion dollar global industry.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic did not hit the economy of Nepali sports much as severely as it did to the sports of other nations, the players, however, felt its impact mentally, physically and financially. The cancellation and postponement of the major tournaments and sporting activities made the Nepali players inactive for more than nine months players’ fitness level also plummeted due to the lack of training during the pandemic break.
Besides, the athletes also got older, which impacted the level of their performance. As the participation in the sport's event is also guided by the athletes' age, they could be denied from participating in the tournaments, which are held based on age criteria. Several Olympic events of football, swimming, gymnastics, and youth sports are conducted on age requirements. Tokyo Olympics 2020, which also was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19, has relaxed the age criteria. Still, the ageing-related changes have an impact on the player's ability to compete. It may alter an athlete's training regimen, competition schedule and physical performance.
Due to the lack of match exposures, players have also lost their competitiveness. Remaining inactive for such a long time has certainly harmed our players’ edge for competitiveness. They remain unable to maintain their match fitness and skill-related performance. Playing frequent matches helps a player in honing their fitness and skills required for matches. Playing more tournaments means earning more money for the players. Playing in local tournaments is one of the major sources of incomes for Nepali players.
The cancellation of the Gold Cup football tournaments and franchise cricket tournaments have left the players penny-less. Remaining without money for a long period has also forced many players to rethink their career in sports. Some even have left the sports unannounced in search of money abroad and some have engaged in other occupations. Nevertheless, for the last couple of months, the calendar of domestic sports has been busy with the organisation of the national level tournaments one after another.
Some of the domestic football events that have been halted midway have been resumed and completed while some are in the process of resumption. Prime Minister Cup Cricket, Badminton and Volleyball tournaments had been recently held. Nepal's international participation has also been on hold after the travel restrictions after the spread of COVID-19. Citing such restrictions, the International Cricket Council postponed Nepal's One Day Tri-Series under the Cricket World Cup League-2 until further notice.
The Cricket Association of Nepal is finding it hard to manage the players for such a long gap. It had already called the players for the close camp but the ICC notice forced it to release the players. However, the Kathmandu Mayor Cup cricket tournament gave some relief to the CAN and the players. Similar is the case with the football of Nepal. The national football team was about to play the World Cup and Asian Cup Qualifiers at the home turf when Asian Football Confederation (AFC) revised the qualifiers' schedule and postponed it. As a result, the Nepali team had to wait for long to host Australia for the same qualifier to be played at Dasarath Stadium.

Concrete plan needed
Nepal's football governing body, All Nepal Football Association, had put in place its Plan B to engage the national team with international teams. ANFA is now all to set to hold an invitational football tournament at home ground. Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan will be coming with their U-23 football team to Kathmandu to participate in this tournament.
Moreover, the vaccination drive against the novel coronavirus is also certainly going to bring confidence back in the normal resumption of sports. Let us hope that our government also comes up with a concrete plan to help the sports run in the new normal.

(Joshi is an associate editor ofthis daily)