Towering claims, scanty investment leave Nepali cricket stunted

May 26: The year 2024 has been a busy one for Nepali cricket. The U-19 team performed well in the ICC Men’s U-19 World Cup in January-February. Nepal’s senior men’s team played two tri-series, including a CWC League 2 opener, hosting Namibia and the Netherlands in February-March. 

In February, Nepal’s women’s team visited Malaysia for the ACC Women’s Premier Cup; the team is currently preparing rigorously for the Women’s T20 Asia Cup scheduled for July as Pakistan, India and the UAE are the opponents in the group stage.

The senior team also travelled to Hong Kong for a tri-series in March; Papua New Guinea was the other team. The second-tier teams (A team) of full-members Ireland and the West Indies were hosted by Nepal in March and April-May respectively. 

In between the arrival of the two full members, defending champion Nepal, in mid-April, visited Oman for the ACC Men’s Premier Cup. 

Nepal is currently buzzing for the biggest event of the year, probably a decade, as the senior men’s team, in nine days, is playing in the 9th T20 World Cup. It is the second time Nepal is participating in the biggest stage of T20 cricket; the last time was in the fifth edition in 2014. 

Since the nation debuted in the World Cup in 2014, the craze of cricket has grown exponentially with every achievement, and it is only growing. Governments over the years have regularly assured to increase investment in cricket. However, in the past 10 years, the infrastructure, resources and investment have remained almost stagnant. 

Former and current cricketers have been stressing that cricket can be a source of livelihood for many, even at the domestic level, if there were enough cricket stadiums across the country. Yet, at a time when even the national cricketers are not being provided enough and infrastructure development is moving at a snail’s pace, the dreams and hopes of a big number of youths being attracted towards the sport are getting trampled on.

Thanks to the Mulpani International Cricket Ground, a future cricket academy, which started hosting international matches only in 2023, Nepal now has two international cricket grounds, including TU International Cricket Ground, which has been hosting international matches since the late 1990s. Meanwhile, to date, both the stadiums only have proper ground, but no other basic infrastructure, such as parapets and floodlights. 

Besides, while the authorities have failed to develop the existing international cricket stadiums, empty promises followed by an unsupportive attitude in budget allocation have left the construction of at least five more international cricket stadiums in limbo for years. 

The five under-construction stadiums are Girija Prasad Koirala Cricket Stadium in Morang, Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium in Chitwan, Deukhuri International Cricket Stadium and Dang International Cricket Stadium in Dang and Fapla International Cricket Stadium in Kailali.  Continued from Page 1

Nepal has a good number of football stadiums fitted with parapets and floodlights. However, those stadiums are deteriorating due to a lack of care by the government, thanks to insufficient budget allocation. Even the only international-standard Dasharath Rangasala has, since February, been deemed unfit to host international matches by the Asian Football Confederation. At such a time, millions of Nepalis have less hope for new cricket stadiums from the three tiers of government – federal, provincial and local.

Nepal has had a different government coming, leaving and returning in a cycle over the years, and each, in every turn, has assured a budget for the international cricket stadiums, even in the Budget Speech. But the stadiums have not received enough out of them; had they received the budget, the stadiums would have been completed years ago and the Red Book could have had the chance to accommodate the development of other sports, including the country’s national sport volleyball.

The sluggishness is a result of the poor support from the government, and it has been demonstrated by Rupandehi’s Extra Tech Oval Cricket Stadium. It is being constructed under the personal investment of over Rs. 400 million by Gulmi’s Binod Kunwar and his wife Sadikshya. Extra Tech Oval’s foundation stone was laid in June 2023, and almost half of the construction process has been completed in a year.

On the other hand, only a ground with a pitch has been prepared in the stadium in Baijanathpur of Morang even though the multi-purpose stadium was planned almost three decades ago.

Nepali cricket players have been denied a good opportunity to play in a proper stadium where the spectators can view the match in a safe manner, not by risking their lives on the branches of tall trees around TU Cricket Ground. The Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) expects some proper stadiums available at least by 2027 as Nepal is co-hosting the ICC U-19 Women’s World Cup with Bangladesh.

The construction of the five cricket stadiums in Morang, Chitwan, Dang and Kailali started in different periods. As these stadiums have not been completed yet, neither TU International Cricket Ground nor Mulpani Cricket Ground could be upgraded for lack of an alternative. Meanwhile, despite different stories behind the delays, the incomplete stadiums have the same outcry: years of unfulfilled promises and neglected progress.

Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium

Based on the physical progress, Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium in Chitwan is the closest to completion. When completed, it will be the centre for national cricket as the stadium was possible due to a strong foundation laid with the love and support of ordinary citizens across the country.

The construction plan for a cricket ground in Chitwan was announced on the occasion of Martyr’s Day in 2019 by the Dhurmus-Suntali Foundation, in cooperation with Bharatpur Metropolitan City. As per the announcement, the stadium, for which an estimated budget of over Rs. 3 billion is required and would be constructed with the donations collected from the public.

Bharatpur Metropolis had allowed the Foundation to construct a stadium in 20 bigha and eight katthas of land inside the premises of the Agriculture and Forestry University.  The initial phase of the construction of Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium then started on December 5, 2019, after many Nepalis from home and abroad donated to the cause. After July 16, 2020, the Foundation started constructing structures around the ground.

Pillars for parapets were erected around the ground, but on August 6, 2021, the Foundation suspended the construction completely because of lack of money. On December 2, 2021, the Foundation pulled out and returned the ownership document for the stadium to Bharatpur Metropolis.

“For a project worth over Rs. 3 billion, we could collect around Rs. 398 million from the public. When we left the construction, we had prepared structures worth Rs. 575.2 million. We were left with dues of Rs. 180 million. The Cabinet decided to cover Rs. 120 million twice, on April 3, 2023, and June 27, 2023. However, the amount was not provided intentionally by the Metropolis which resulted in the budget getting frozen,” exclaimed Sitaram Kattel aka Dhurmus.

Since the construction was halted, the large pillars and ground have been covered with bushes and shrubs leading to millions of rupees worth of investment towards wastage. Meanwhile, the dreams of children who saved their lunch money alongside elderly people who gave their senior citizen allowances have not stopped echoing in the forest-like structure.

Many locals and cricket followers still remember the words of 91-year-old diabetes and heart patient Harimaya Silwal of Bharatpur. Donating Rs. 23,000 for the stadium out of her senior citizen allowance, Silwal had said, “I do not know whether the stadium will be constructed or not. I wish that the stadium gets constructed because I have donated the money I need for medicines.”

Meanwhile, the government has shown a keen interest in completing the stadium and has listed it as a national pride project. The federal government, Bagmati Province government and Bharatpur Metropolis have guaranteed budgets and a tender process has been initiated. The provincial government alone has guaranteed Rs. 520 million for the project.

The first tender, which was opened on February 29, 2024, was terminated by the Public Procurement Monitoring Office under the Office of the Prime Minister because the process was deemed dubious. The government plans to invest Rs. 1.1 billion and construct a 10,000-seater stadium in the initial phase. As per the master plan of Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium, it will have an overall seat capacity of 60,000.

“The first tender was terminated. The second tender will be opened on June 16. The construction duration will be of 30 months,” said senior engineer Santosh Acharya, chief at Bharatpur Metropolis’ Infrastructure Section.

“The condition of the infrastructures is a mirror for the investment towards the respective sports. Thus, the stadium in Chitwan and other parts of the country should be completed soon. Sports and the economy are directly linked with each other. Nepal can benefit a lot if the authorities invest properly in sports,” said Sandeep Lamichhane, the most successful Nepali cricketer who started his cricketing journey from Chitwan.

Girija Prasad Koirala Cricket Stadium

Sukaret Lal Sardar is 65. For the last 14 years, he has been given a small house to stay inside the premises of Girija Prasad Koirala Cricket Stadium in Baijanathpur of Biratnagar, to take care of the project. However, caretaker Sardar is not paid for the job; in return, he has been allowed to farm one bigha of land and earn a livelihood.

While Sardar struggles to keep an eye on the vast area of the stadium in his old age during the morning, he worries more at night because he is alone. And the trouble at night has only increased because the electricity supply to his house has been cut down for the past 14 months.

“Since the Girija Prasad Koirala Stadium Project has not paid the electricity bill, the electricity to the stadium, including Sardar’s cottage, has been cut down,” said Mahesh Prasad Rijal, Morang District Cricket Association’s coach.

Meanwhile, there is not even a proper road to Girija Prasad Koirala Cricket Stadium in Baijanathpur of Biratnagar. The stadium’s 15 bigha and 10 katthas area, which is separated by barbed fencing, is bigger than that required for a cricket stadium alone. It is because the overall land was acquired by the then government in 1998 after it was decided to construct a multi-purpose stadium there. After a pitch was prepared during the 7th National Games in 2016, a cricket ground got readied too; however, besides that, only the name of the stadium has been properly finalised until now. The majority of the land has turned into a grazing area for the cattle.

After over 25 years, the area has a cricket ground, which hosted a national-level T20 tournament in March, a tennis court and a shooting range. However, they all await proper conservation as the available infrastructure is getting worse day by day.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports, on November 5, 2023, had sought a budget of Rs. 27.974 million from the National Planning Commission for a detailed project report of the stadium, currently a national pride project. The then Minister Dig Bahadur Limbu, a local of Morang district, had assured to complete the stadium in three years. The assurance has not changed despite the minister having been replaced, but nothing concrete has been done.

Many locals in Morang argue that the stadium would have received a sufficient budget if Limbu remained the minister.

“Alongside the budget for a DPR, the ministry requested for Rs. 669.3 million for FY 2023/24, Rs. 1.11 billion for FY 2024/25 and Rs. 979 million for FY 2025/26. However, FY 2023/24 is about to end, and even the DPR has not been prepared yet,” said Ganesh Gurung, chief of the Planning, Tracking and Development Assistance Section of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Nevertheless, stakeholders stressed that blaming the federal government was not the only option. “The local and provincial governments allocate some budget for the ground annually but have not dared to initiate a proper construction. Around Rs. 300,000 is invested in ground maintenance every year. The ground has at least provided a proper place to play, but without infrastructure for spectators, a tournament can never be a success. If a tournament is successful, the players will benefit enough to earn a proper livelihood from domestic cricket as well,” said coach Rijal.

“It is a mega project that requires billions, but we receive piecemeal funding,” said Sobhit Prasai, technical department chief of Koshi Province Sports Development Board.

Koshi Province had allocated Rs. 10 million before the COVID-19 pandemic for a four-storey building including a pavilion hall. “The budget allocated under Koshi’s Ministry of Social Development has not been utilised yet,” said Mohammad Sad Babu Kuraisi, Morang District Cricket Association’s President, adding, “To date, over Rs. 30 million has been invested in the cricket ground by the three tiers of the government. However, in the lack of continuous economic support, inspection and guidance, the investment is going down the drain.”

Fapla International Cricket Stadium

The craze of cricket in Western Nepal is unparalleled, especially in the Tarai region. And the thirst for an international cricket stadium is also the most intense there.

Amidst the increasing support towards cricket, a temporary cricket ground was prepared in Dhangadhi in 2014. A year later, the ‘Dream Fapla’ campaign was initiated to transform the ground into an international cricket stadium.

The campaign received immense support from the grassroots and political leaders and ministers assured to make the dream a reality and construct Fapla International Cricket Stadium and Sports Village.

“The stadium was proposed a decade ago, but a detailed project report is finally in the making after the federal government decided to construct the stadium under the Infrastructure Development Construction Committee and allocated a budget of Rs. 10 million. A contract has also been signed for the environment impact assessment (EIA),” said Subash Shahi, chairman of the Dream Fapla Campaign.

Shahi informed that the Committee planned to complete the DPR by the current fiscal year and focus on the construction from the upcoming fiscal year.

“The source for the stadium’s budget has been guaranteed. The three tiers of the government are coordinating. The Committee is, however, yet to decide the model of the project. The earlier master plan for only a cricket stadium has been rejected as the government plans to develop it as a sports village as well. But the cricket stadium will be given priority in construction,” said Shahi, adding, “We are close to realising our ‘Dream Fapla’ project if everything goes right.”

Two international stadiums in Dang

The dream of a cricket stadium in Khulladando, once a grazing land in Lamahi, started in FY 1998/99 through the then Lamahi Municipal Development Committee.

In over 25 years, around Rs. 100 million has been invested for the stadium by the Committee. A parapet is being constructed around a ground with a radius of 80 metres and three pitches with a dream of ‘Deukhuri International Cricket Stadium’.

“A budget of Rs. 40 million was allocated recently and a VIP parapet for players and viewers is in the final stage of construction. Commentary box, digital scoreboard and indoor and outdoor practice areas are also available, but the ground has not been utilised for matches because the Committee is not lenient in handing over the stadium to the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN),” said Kailash Kumar Roka Magar, Lumbini Province Cricket Association’s secretary.

Dang District Cricket Association’s secretary Sanju Chhetri also stressed that the denial to hand over the stadium’s ownership to the CAN has disallowed the organisation of tournaments in a good cricket ground.

“The ground hosted the women’s cricket tournament during the 8th National Games in 2019 and the PM Women’s Cup the following year. The ground is near the East-West Highway and surrounded by hotels, shops and health centres. However, the stadium is in a poor condition,” said Roka Magar, who is also a former cricketer.

“The CAN had requested the Committee to hand over the stadium with a five-year plan in 2013. The disagreement persists even when discussions are underway now and then,” Roka Magar added.

Meanwhile, Lamahi Municipality Mayor Jograj Chaudhary, who is also the chairman of the Lamahi Municipal Development Committee, noted that the Committee was equally eager to organise matches on the ground where millions have been invested. “There are some technical issues. We have demanded some ownership if we hand over the stadium to the CAN,” said Chaudhary.

Nevertheless, the inability to utilise an available ground has left a new generation of cricketers at the grassroots level in Dang in dismay. Moreover, it is not the only stranded stadium in the district that demotivates youngsters in dreaming of a life in cricket.

The Ghorahi Cricket Stadium in Ghorahi Sub-Metropolitan City does not have as much infrastructure as the stadium in Lamahi, “but Ghorahi has a good ground capable of hosting big national tournaments,” said Chhetri.

In the past decade, three pitches have been prepared on the ground alongside the construction of a dressing room and training areas. “Parapets, commentary box, digital scoreboard and other infrastructures are yet to be constructed in Ghorahi,” Chhetri added.

Ghorahi Cricket Ground has been hosting under-16 and under-19 provincial-level tournaments. It has also hosted the Dang Cricket League twice and the Sagarmatha T20 League one time.

“When the ground sees tournaments, it encourages youngsters towards sport. We see many children, both boys and girls, dreaming of representing the nation in cricket. Stadiums will help those children fulfil their dreams and participate in the upcoming World Cups for the country, and if possible, win them,” said Chhetri.

Around Rs. 10 million has been invested in Ghorahi Cricket Stadium in the past decade. The stadium is also lacking proper concern as the locals are not ready to hand over the ownership to the CAN.

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