'We wanted to do something meaningful to raise the bar of sports in Nepal'

‘We wanted to do something meaningful to raise the bar of sports in Nepal’

As the Chairperson of Nepal Sports and Events Management (NSEM), Ashrayata Karki Chaudhary successfully pioneered the Nepal Super League (NSL), the first professional franchise-based football league in Nepal.

Ashrayata Karki Chaudhary Chairperson, Nepal Sports and Events Management As the Chairperson of Nepal Sports and Events Management (NSEM), Ashrayata Karki Chaudhary successfully pioneered the Nepal Super League (NSL), the first professional franchise-based football league in Nepal. The first edition of the league was hailed as a landmark tournament by the sports fraternity and even featured in the official FIFA magazine. Chaudhary is also the Executive Director of Pangaea which owns and operates Fabindia franchise stores in Nepal and Tuneko Foods which recently launched GimbapGo, a Korean dine-in and takeaway restaurant in Jhamsikhel with plans to expand to other places in Nepal. She is also engaged with the South Asian Women’s Development Forum and the Confederation of Nepalese Industries - Women Leadership Forum as its Executive Board Member. Chaudhary holds a MSc degree from the London School of Economics and BA Honours from the University of Birmingham, UK. In this edition of Business 360, we spoke to Chaudhary about the business of sports in Nepal, the formation of Nepal Super League, and what’s holding back progress in sports in the country. Excerpts:

What is the concept behind Nepal Super League?

The Nepal Super League is the first professional franchise-based football league in Nepal. It was organised by Nepal Sports and Events Management with technical support from All Nepal Football Association (ANFA). There are a total of 10 clubs in the league from various provinces of Nepal, thus making it a nationwide league. The main goal of Nepal Super League is to develop the youth of the country through the medium of sports and to raise the bar of sports in Nepal thereby also improving its international ranking. We aim to engage our fans by presenting them with quality and entertaining sporting events. To take this to greater heights and make it a sustainable process, involvement has to start from the grassroots level. We want to encourage and develop talented players and show upcoming talents that they can have a career in sports in Nepal. NSEM is much more than just a league - moving forward it aims to develop better sports infrastructure, training centres and sports academies nationwide.

When did you start and what was the investment?

It first kicked off with a football championship held at the Dasharath Rangashala from April 24 to May 15 in 2021. Kathmandu Rayzrs were the winners of the first championship. Due to rising Covid cases in Nepal, spectators were not allowed in the stadium. Nevertheless, it became extremely popular and was able to set new records in live television viewership thus setting a new benchmark in Nepal for sports tournaments. The tournament not only brought together the finest players from across the country to compete and showcase their talent but also enticed and encouraged local coaches to improve and further their career prospects. All teams also had foreign players from several countries. Nepal’s leading corporate houses have invested heavily in the teams and the league. Going forward, we want to be able to garner more private and foreign investments into Nepali football as well as other sports in Nepal.

What are the new activities that you have started or are planning to do?

We are planning to launch other sports leagues in the country starting with the national game of volleyball. The first edition of NSL Volleyball has been initiated and will kick off in March 2023. It will have competitions in both men’s and women’s categories. More and more women are gradually getting involved in sports in Nepal and our goal is to not only increase participation but to provide a platform for more women to showcase their skills and talent. By doing so, we aim to open up opportunities for women to also have a career in sports in Nepal.

How important do you feel are such leagues for Nepal and how do they contribute to the sports culture of the country?

Extremely important! I will list out the reasons why that is so:
  • It engages fans by showcasing quality sporting events for their entertainment and raising the bar of sports in the country.
  • It provides a platform for talented players to showcase their talent and further their opportunities. For example, players such as Manish Dangi and Ayush Ghalan were among the five players who were directly selected from NSL for the Nepali national team.
  • It helps improve international ranking. Players get an opportunity not only to play with quality foreign players but gain more experience and exposure.
  • It creates an environment for further private and foreign investment into sports and sports infrastructure.
  • It can open doors for players and local coaches to improve and further their career prospects. NSL showed many upcoming talents that they can have a career in sports in Nepal and do not have to go to foreign countries to earn a living.

Do you believe that competitions like the Nepal Super League will be profitable in the future?

Our entire agenda for venturing into sports was not just for profit but because all our team members are avid sports lovers and wanted to do something meaningful to raise the bar of sports in Nepal. While Covid affected most enterprises in 2021, we went ahead with our first edition without any spectators in the stadium. We did this purely because we truly wanted to make a difference. We wanted our players, coaches and officials who were sitting idle without any income to have a source of income and feel valued and motivated. We wanted the Nepali football fans sitting at home to be able to watch quality domestic football which was entertaining. And I feel we were tremendously successful in doing this. Leagues like this can be profitable only in the long term but the environment has to create a conducive environment for further private and foreign investment. The government and various sports associations have to create an environment where corporate houses feel encouraged to invest in sports.

While Nepal is a nation of young people who are interested in sports, why has sports not developed adequately?

One of the main reasons is lack of funds and investments. The budget allocated for sports by the government is low due to which we are extremely inadequate in infrastructures such as stadiums and training grounds. The various sports associations do not have enough funds to give the players the proper training and guidance needed to compete at the international level. Moreover, players do not get paid well due to which they either stop playing or go out of the country looking for better opportunities. They do not feel like there are good career prospects in sports in Nepal. We want to be able to change that.

How important are sponsorships for such leagues?

Sponsorships are very important for such leagues. If you have a leading brand or a big company as a sponsor it generates attention and publicity for the league. This publicity can help boost ticket sales and other revenues for the league. Sponsors provide the funds needed to make the league reach its maximum potential including marketing, branding and all the other business aspects of successfully planning and hosting such sports leagues.

How do you view the future of Nepali football and sports in general in Nepal?

Well, if the right people are put in the right place to lead sports in Nepal, then the future is promising. The right environment has to be created to get more private and foreign investments which is not the case right now. One thing I noticed is that a lot of people who are involved in football, for example, are scared of change. They don’t see the involvement of corporate houses in such leagues as a positive thing. They feel corporate houses should only be sponsors for their clubs and not have their own teams or their own league. When we initiated this, I have a feeling they felt that we were here to replace them; take away their sponsors and make life difficult for them by increasing players' and coaches' salaries. They don’t seem to see the bigger picture. Having such leagues creates an environment for future investments in sports and infrastructure which will benefit the clubs, players and all stakeholders. This closed mindset needs to change. If we look beyond other South Asian countries, having such leagues has tremendously boosted their private and foreign investments and improved the international ranking of their respective countries. Everyone benefits from this. READ ALSO:  
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Business 360 is a magazine that delivers on quality business news content, profiles of entrepreneurs and leaders, features on issues that matter, articles that assess and analyze policy and delivery mechanisms in the world of trade and commerce.

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