“Winter sports can be a foundation for off-seasonal tourism in Nepal”
Why is it important for a country like Nepal to focus on the development of sports?
Sports is also an indicator of a country’s societal and economic development. The performance of players in international competitions reflects the state of development. Nepal has not reached the stage where we can execute plans related to sports in well managed ways. Globalisation has also made impacts here, albeit slowly.
It needs policy level intervention to make sports commercial in the best sense. It should be one of the priorities of the government. We should create an environment where sportsmen and women can make a living from it in the long run.
Fostering a good sporting environment can help create a viable business atmosphere in the country. For instance, organising large sporting events has become an important way of promoting tourism the world over.
What are the priorities of NOC?
We are striving to unify Nepalis through sports. We are playing an active role in improving the quality of domestic sports so that Nepali sportsmen and womencanachieve impressive results in international tournaments.
NOC works to establish the core Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship in the country as we are the Nepal chapter of the International Olympic Committee. We provide support to various sports associations in Nepal in the areas of player management, strengthening the sporting authorities and developing sportsmanship and professionalism.
We provide policy level support to the associations to manage, develop and market their sporting events. We also coordinate with the government to organise official events like the South Asian Games and other regional games.
How is NOC providing support to sports associations and players?
We have been supporting 10 associations with the solidarity fund provided by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) every four years. Each association is provided with Rs 800,000 under the fund to update themselves with new rules and regulations adopted internationally. They are selected on the basis of their potential and organisational functionality. NOC also provides financial support in the form of a Team Grant to the associations which can spend the moneyon training and player participation in international events. NOC receives funds from IOC and distributes the money on a programme basis.
What is NOC doing to enhance the skills of layers?
Our focus is on the capacity enhancement of elite athletes who have the potential to perform well in international tournaments. The players are recommended by respective associations. We crosscheck their backgrounds and the stats provided by associations. NOC supports players while coordinating with IOC in their training. We cover all related expenses of players while they are training or participating in events.
We also provide scholarships to athletes who are selected three years prior to any tournament. Such activities are important for the associations, players and coaches as they will not only benefit from the training but will also have the opportunity to transmit their newly developed skills among the sports community.
What percentage of the national budget is allocated for sports?
Annually, the sports sector receives 0.56 percent of the total budget. This is why we have to rely on foreign assistance. The budget is largely insufficient given the increasing popularity of different types of games among Nepalis in recent years.
The budget allocated by the government is primarily for purposes like training and catering to games at the grass root levels, whereas we also function to further enhance the talent which has already reacheda higher level.
How can we make Nepali sports commercially viable?
Sufficient infrastructure including up to date equipment and other facilities are necessary to build an inclusive environment for sports in the country. Sporting facilities should be available at community, school and college levels.
Regular tournaments need to be organised.We should look to introduce new types of sports. At present, we only have summer sports. Winter sports such as skiing can be introduced in suitable parts of the country.
We can explore opportunities in establishing winter sports as a foundation for off-seasonal tourism.
“A proper league structure is a must to take Nepali cricket to new heights”
How is the overall situation of sportspersons in the country? What are the major problems in cricket?
Financially, it is very difficult for cricketers who don’t play international cricket to sustain in Nepal. Cricket leagues are not held on a regular basis in the country to engage the players and help them earn some money. Organising league games at the district and regional levels will be beneficial to the overall development of cricket in Nepal. Such tournaments will also help attract a lot of youths to the sport and also to explore hidden talents in the nooks and corners of the country. Not only cricket and football, the sports authorities concerned need to prioritise every sport. As the country is in the phase of transformation and the government is also positive towards sports, I am hopeful that players have a better future.
Nepal has been granted ODI status by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Do you think this will help the players financially? What should be the government's approach towards cricket?
We have been granted the ODI status only for four years. Of course, the ICC fund for the development of cricket in Nepal will increase. But it is the responsibility of the government and the cricket governing body to financially strengthen the players. The domestic league needs to be effective and strong rather than focusing only on the country’s ODI status. It is not that we should focus less on international cricket, but the players and the whole team will be internationally competitive only when they play enough domestic competitions. Only 15-20 players will play ODI matches which will not benefit domestic players financially. We can take the example of the Indian Premier League (IPL) of India and National Basketball Association (NBA) of the United States. Both sporting tournaments are domestic leagues that support the players who don’t play international games. So, a proper league structure is a must in order to take the Nepali cricket to new heights.
How are the domestic leagues like Everest Premiere League (EPL) and Dhangadhi Premiere League (DPL) contributing to the development of cricket in Nepal?
EPL and DPL were organised with big investments. The tournaments also attracted some international players sending some positive message about Nepali cricket in the global arena. Young cricketers learned a lot from the foreign cricketers.
The leagues also helped explore some hidden talents. The engagement of corporate houses made the tournaments more professional and the players also benefitted financially. EPL and DPL have proved that sporting events carry huge possibilities in Nepal. Such competitions can also help the country’s tourism sector.
What challenges are there due to the lack of a regular domestic league?
There should be regular cricketing events across the country. Week-long tournaments have less impact on the enhancement of skills of the players. Having a regular domestic cricket league structure can be instrumental not only in the personal development of the cricketers but also can be helpful in terms of their income generation. Cricket accessories are also very expensive. Generally, it costs more than Rs 50,000 to buy a normal cricket kit. It costs almost Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 for a bat to play international matches. It is very difficult for Nepali players who don’t play international cricket. They also have to support their families and invest in their career growth at the same time.
What should be the next step of the government and bodies like CAN to develop and commercialise cricket? Is the budget provided by the government sufficient for the development of cricket?
A collective effort from all stakeholders is necessary for the commercialisation of Nepali cricket. The private sector also has a big role to play. The private sector in India, for instance, has done a tremendous job for the development of Indian cricket over the years. Lately, the Nepali private sector has also shown a keen interest in the commercialisation of cricket. The introduction of tournaments like EPL and DPL are stepping stones in this regard.
Nevertheless, the government has to take the major responsibility in terms of investment and other facilities. Till date, there has been very minimal support from the government for the development of cricket. There is no proper infrastructure for sports such as stadiums. The government can also urge other sectors to invest in cricket. The money allocated annually in the national budget for the overall sports is very low. It is less than one percent of the budget. The amount gets even smaller when it is divided among different sports. We have the CAN as the central cricket body and there are also district and regional associations. The authorities need to work together for the development of cricket.
With Nepal gaining the ODI status, are there any chances of organising international matches here?
Cricket in Nepal is controlled by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) is currently suspended. So, there is a 50-50 chance for hosting international cricketing events in Nepal. We will have international matches after the suspension is lifted. We only have one international cricket ground and monsoon season is also round the corner. So, it might be quite difficult to host big matches at this time.
What is the salary of Nepali cricketers?
It’s already been 16 months since cricket players have not received their salaries. The suspension of the central cricket authority is the main reason behind this. CAN has categorised cricket players into ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ grades. The monthly salary of category ‘A’ players is Rs 35,000, whereas ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ graded cricketers get Rs 25,000, Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively. The decision was made when CAN was the governing body of Nepali cricket. Earlier too, we didn’t receive salary for a long time. But after the initiation of players, ICC provided salary when the CAN got suspended.
What is the situation of sponsorships in Nepali cricket?
Nepal Telecom (NT) had decided to sponsor the Nepali National Cricket Team with a significant amount. But the suspension of CAN led to the freezing of the sponsorship deal.
Meanwhile, the jersey of the national team is also sponsored by different brands. Similarly, cricket kits of some national players are sponsored by some companies. The start of league tournaments like EPL and DPL has marked a new era of sports sponsorship in Nepal. The interest shown by large corporate houses to sponsor the teams has been encouraging.
“EPL will grow much bigger in the next season”
What are the major accomplishments of Everest Premiere League (EPL)?
Being new, EPL is still a very domestic cricket league. Nevertheless,the positive aspect is that it can be taken globally as a brand. We have adopted international systems in EPL but with limitations and by understanding what Nepali cricket is. The league has been successful in terms of developing players and cricket and also for the owners of the teams as anintroduction to a new sports venture. Meanwhile, spectators got a chance to watch international players play. Looking at the parameters- more or less, we’ve hit the right button. So, EPL will be even bigger in the next season and will contribute to every possible sector in the growth of crickethere.
What was the idea behind introducing EPL?
EPL was needed by Nepali cricket. It came late to the country, but is not a new concept in sports. It could have been organised 5-6 years ago. As a former player, I personally felt the need for a domestic sporting platform not only to stimulate new talent but for the development of players andmaking their income and careers sustainable.Strengthening the game of cricket can make players feel that they have a secured career.
The league was organised at a time when the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) was suspended. What challenges did you face?
We did not think that CAN would face a prolonged suspension. We waited for six months for the suspension to be lifted,but unfortunatelyit did not happen. We turned tothe National Sports Council and they were very helpful and issued us a no objection letter. We sat down with all the stakeholders, including players, franchises and sponsorsand finally agreed on taking the responsibility to organise EPL even in the absence of CAN.
How can EPL contribute to the sports economy of Nepal?
We are working on a very innovative and extraordinary concept for EPL which I believe will be our trademark. If we can haveplayers who are internationally higher ranked and are regarded as icons playing in the matches, the possibility of attracting tourists from neighbouring countries is high. If tourists from India can afford to come to visit as religious pilgrims, they can certainly afford to come to watch cricket tournaments in Nepal too. India is a home to a vast number of cricket enthusiasts. So, EPL can be instrumental in attracting Indian tourists.
What benefits has EPL been adding to the development of cricket?
Any new tournament contributes in terms of the introduction or exposure of new players. For example, Rahul Poudel and Anil Sah from last year’s EPL came into the limelight and people praised their talents. If such tournaments are organised every year, we can contribute one to two players to the national cricket team. The Talent Hunt Competition we have done can bring new talent to the Nepali cricketing scene as well.
How much employment did EPL generate in its last season?
A total of 90 players received satisfying salaries from the franchises to play in the tournament. Players also got the chance to showcase their talent. This also includes around 18 to 20 groundsmen, 12 umpires and numerous vendorsat the tournament. Many volunteers and cheer leaders also took part in the tournament.
Are there any plans on expanding the number of teams in the next season of EPL?
We don’t have plans to expand team numbers for at least the next two years. It is primarily because we really want to focus on the quality of the matches.We had six teams in the previous leagues and the number will be increased to eight by 2020.
How does the sponsorship mechanism work in EPL?
Both EPL and the franchises have their own sponsors. More than 40 direct sponsors including that of leagues and franchises and many indirect sponsors via TV were engaged in the tournament. EPL isa sponsor-oriented and sponsor-friendly sports event in Nepal. Companies sponsor eventsonly if they observe any scope which would help their business. The participation of sponsors in EPL shows that the scope is huge in Nepal too.
How much was the broadcast and television rights? What was the profit from the tournament?
The television rightswere given to AP1 TV for Rs 5 million in cash and Rs 5 million insponsorships. The TV channel broadcasted our advertisements as a kind of sponsorship.We work under the central revenue system from which the money earned from tickets and TV broadcasts is equally distributed among the six franchises and EPL.
What are the expansion plans of EPL in the future?
We plan to bring more international players who have earned a name in the cricketing scene. As of now, the print media and television have played a role in promoting the league. In the days to come, we are trying to tie up with digital partners that can give justice to the brand by promoting it to the next level. We have plans for developing players along with the introduction of new talent. We have plans to launch a unique cricket innovation.
What challenges are you facing with the lack of stadiums?
Currently, the Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground at Kirtipur is the only venue for organising cricketing events. This has long been a problem for the development of Nepali cricket. The ground does not have flood lights which makes it impossible to conduct matches in the evening. It is hard to maintain the pitches as we organise two games per day on average. We rented the stadium from the National Sports Council at Rs 25,000 per day. But the government didn’t provide any service during the tournament. We had to maintain the pitchourselves. There is also a lack of proper dressing rooms, water, electricity and internet connection. The government should manage basic services when it rents out the ground.The government should focus on building more infrastructures for cricket and work on modernising the stadium at Kirtipur.
How does the player auction in EPL work?
We have had the same teams for the last two years. This will continue for the next three years. Franchises have a budget limitation of Rs one million and can pick up to ten players from the auction excluding iconic and international players.
“Better days ahead for Nepali football”
The dust of uncertainty seems to have settled in the ANFAcontroversy after the recently held election for the post of president. How do you think the association will now move ahead to uplift Nepali football?
The newly elected team will work passionately for the overall development of football in the country. We hopethat ANFA will continue the National League football competition which hasn’t been organised for the last three years.
What are the reasons behind the abrupt stopof divisionleague competition?
The termination of the sponsorship contract with Redbull and the damages incurred by the Dashrath Stadium in the 2015 Earthquake are the two main reasons. Organising the league competition, which includes promotion and relegation of participating sports clubs, on a regular basis is instrumental to scaling up the capacity of both teams and individual players. The last few years haven’t been satisfactory for Nepali football for a couple of reasons, such asthe halting of national-level league competitionsand issues in ANFA itself.
In the meantime, the existing infrastructure is not in a good enough condition for major league games. Similarly, most of the clubs are Kathmandu-based and ANFA presently lacks the capacity to organise leagues outside the capital. Dwindling financial resources have also added to the problems in the development of football.
How will ANFA make sure that division league games are organised regularly?
ANFA is now in a position to conduct league games on a regular basis as FIFA has recently approved the programme proposal submitted by Nepal. ANFA will get the annual budget amounting to Rs 750 million from the governing body of global football under the FIFA Forward programme. Out of the amount, Rs 600 million will be allocated for organising league competitions. After the successful ANFA election the issues will likely be resolved and one can be hopeful that Nepali football will see better times ahead. I have heard that the government and the National Sports Council have also decided to allocate Rs 6 million to organising the pending league competitions.
Whatare the infrastructures needed by ANFA to ensure national-level league games are organised on a regular basis?
At present, we have the Dashrath Stadium as the only venue where the football league games can be held.There should be at least two pitches for the purpose. If possible, alternative venues should also be arranged.
As the ANFA football pitch has hosted international matches in the past, it can be used for league games. But there is a problem in that the ground is relatively smaller and it doesn’t have the capacity to host big crowds during the matches of major football clubs.
The lack of a proper football stadium is one problem among many hindering the development of Nepali football. Without such sporting venues we cannot invite foreign teams to play friendly matches. These types of matches can be important for our national team and clubs in terms of gaining experience and better skills. For instance, African countries have developed their football infrastructure noticeably, and as a result their players are gaining prominence in major European leagues.
What major obstacles do you think are there in the commercialisation of football in Nepal? What is needed to be done to remove the hurdles?
Nepal is not a huge market like many countries in Asia and elsewhere. But football has remained the most popular sport in the country so far. This is one of the driving factors of Nepali football despite all the problems. As I’ve mentioned earlier, lack of proper infrastructure is one major obstacle and problem. The four-year programme of football development should be prepared beforehand creating a clear picture for prospective investors, clubs and stakeholders.
How interested is the Nepaliprivate sector in terms of sponsorship and investment in football. How can the engagement of the private sector be increased?
The private sector has been showing its interest in sponsoring and investing in sports. However, football in Nepal is not up to the mark. Most of the national-level clubs have sponsors. But the clubs haven’t benefitted from the sponsorships to the extent they should have. Lack of marketing has also been playing a role in this regard.
What is ANFA doing for the capacity enhancement and income increment of players?
ANFA had been supporting tournaments and facilitating national-level players in their trainings. The association has given continuity to grass root programmes as well as youth level and female football tournaments. The clubs also need to have their own plans and programmes to generate sustainable income. The ANFA affiliated clubs should first develop the concept of marketing. They need to understand the importance of merchandising in revenue generation.
The expectation of the clubs to pay their players with the money they receive from ANFA is not a good idea as it is not sustainable. They should work on increasing the fan base and develop their merchandising. Football clubs throughout the world generate income and become sustainable by selling merchandise like jerseys, t-shirts, mufflers and caps, among many other items.
Do the Nepali football clubs pay tax to the government?
Most of the clubs are still non-profit organisations. However, as the existing legal arrangements require them to have the Permanent Account Number (PAN), they should have been paying taxes accordingly.But the system of deducting taxes from the money provided to the players by the clubs has not been introduced yet.
Is the current budget size of Rs 80-85 million insufficient for ANFA? What are its financial resources?
FIFA provides Rs 500 million annually under the Financial Assistance Programme (FAB) to its 211 member countries including Nepal. Nepal has also started receiving RS 750 million under the FIFA Forward Programme which was approved recently by the global football governing body. Meanwhile, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) also provides Rs250 million annually to ANFA.
What will the district level grassroots football programmes announced by ANFA include?
The programme has been introduced in order to decentralise the development of football. It also targets to increase the number of players. If we have the quantity, we can have the quality. There is a need to launch grassroots football programmes in every district to realise this aim in a true sense.