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Cricket, culture and colleges
Publication Date : 30-10-2012
Even by South-Asian standards, the involvement of students in party politics is at a heightened level in Nepal. Anytime a political party announces a protest programme such as a shut down, scenes where a bunch of youth—mostly college students—-forcing businesses to close down, obstructing roads, blocking vehicles or threatening those who may be perceived defying the shut down, become a general occurrence. Skirmishes over party policies and issues, resulting in student injuries, are common. These sometimes even lead to deaths. Students have apparently become the muscle power of the parties and colleges an arena to demonstrate political clout.
Student politics is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows students to find their voice. It enables them to raise issues pertaining to student welfare. Ideally, it should act as a platform that allows free discussion and intellectual pursuit, which help build an informed and productive citizenry of tomorrow. But when the energy of student politics is categorically spent on carrying party flags and practicing militancy, this calls for serious attention.
The culture of student politics is the legacy of the repressive Panchayati era. The system that banned political parties somehow allowed college students, and even school students, to organise and participate in the student union elections. The thinking might have been that, when allowed freedom to organise, students would not feel constrained and, thus, they would not pose any threat to the system. A student body — Rashtriya Swatantra Bidyarthi Mandal, or Mandale, as people often called it — was put in place to counter in the case a threat arose.
The fall out of the political repression, however, was that college campuses became a fertile ground for the activities of the banned political parties. Student organisations became their proxies. None of this means to undermine the role the student force played in bringing down the autocratic Panchayati rule. The real problem started when student politics was subsequently malnourished and highly patronised in the 1990s and later. The opening up of competitive politics on the national stage should have moderated it; instead it was exploited and made worse. The unfortunate result is the militant, digressed, disillusioned and unproductive student politics in its current ugly form.
Can the tide be reversed? One way to look at the issue is that students may have only politics as the extracurricular activity that can serve as a conduit for the expression of their youth vigour, passion and intensity. Can they be provided with alternates that could help channel their unbridled energy more productively? There comes the utility of cricket, a sport immensely popular in the subcontinent, and a need to take inspiration from the sports culture existing in US universities and colleges.
Let’s take a specific example of American football, which is a highly popular sport in the US and played by a majority of US universities and colleges (The sport known as football in the US or Canada has developed from and is similar to rugby than to the football that the people of Asia or Europe are familiar with). The college football matches, played every Saturday during the season which starts in September every year and ends in February with several, big-prize bowl championships, create festival like occasions not only for the students, alumni, faculty and staff, but also for the local communities which coalesce around and cheer for their respective teams. The great rivalries that have emerged over the decades between the football teams of certain universities become the talk of the town.
The tradition of college football, established more than a century ago, has attained widespread reach. The matches provide for bonding between community members and the educational institutions. The local economy gets a boost with restaurants, hotels and motels packed with people visiting from the vicinity to watch the game. It has created vast economic resources for the educational institutions, which generate billions of US dollars in revenue each year from the tickets and telecasting of the games, as well as from the royalties from the clothing, hats, stationeries, and other merchandise imprinted with mascots and logos. The enormous economic impact can be exemplified by the fact that the football coach commands an annual salary more than that of the university president in many universities. Perhaps the most important contribution of college football — or the sport culture as a whole — is that they help channel youth passion and intensity.
Cricket presents such an opportunity to colleges and schools in Nepal. Look at the feat of the Nepali cricket team, unparalleled by any other sport. In the relatively short period of time that the country has started playing the game, the team has shown a remarkable improvement and already bagged several international wins, including the World cricket league division 4 and 5 championships, the ACC U-19 elite cup, and the ACC elite trophy (recently co-winning with the UAE). In order to sustain and improve, the sport needs a continuous supply of motivated, talented youngsters. Colleges and schools can be a supply powerhouse, if cricket can be organised at those levels.
The government and, in particular, colleges and schools should take advantage of this opportunity. Establishing a culture of cricket may take a long time, if it can be done at all. But it has to start somewhere. Even if a handful of college and school administrations can pull some resources to initiate and promote cricket, it will add to their services to the society. Who knows, perhaps such initiatives can lead to a future where students do not have to resort to politics for the expression of their immense energy. The sport could produce national heroes that youngsters try to emulate, businesses could find an additional avenue through which to market their products and services, and inter- and intra-collegiate competitions could result in economic benefits to the educational institutions. And, in the process, the deeply ingrained societal aversion towards sports would slowly crumble.
The author is a former assistant professor at Pittsburg State University, US, and currently works for a multinational company.