Nepal women’s football team are always neglected. Will they do wonder in SAFF Women’s Championship 2022?

Women's football team Nepal

Nepal is hosting the SAFF Women’s Championship for the second consecutive time. There is a lot of hope that Nepal could win the tournament as Nepal women’s football team have become the runner-up four times. But, if you look at recent developments, there is little to no chance that Nepal will be able to do so.

The championship will start on September 6, but preparations for the tournament have not begun as far as Nepal women’s football team are concerned. While the city to host the tournament has not been decided yet, the hosts’ team do not have a coach, so they have not been called for closed camp.

The gender divide

All Nepal Football Association prioritising men’s football over women’s football is an age-old affair. The only time ANFA looks towards the women’s team is when they take part in specific tournaments. The situation is such that they do not even have a permanent coach as they get a new one every tournament.

“We are disregarded,” says a women’s national team member. “The men’s team train regularly before a tournament, but we don’t get to do that. We don’t even know who will coach us. How can we do well when this is happening?”

As the women’s football team were taking part in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou for the first time, the responsibility to coach the team was given to Bal Gopal Maharjan. He had been training the team for a month. It is likely that he will be given the task to coach the team in the SAFF Championships too, but things are not sure as training stopped after the Asian Games were postponed.

The last time Nepal women’s football team played a match was in September 2021. They took on Bangladesh and won one and drew another. Things are worse if you look at things from 2014 onwards. Since then, Nepal have only played friendly matches with two teams, Malaysia and Bangladesh. That is a major concern as the team members believe they should have played better teams so that they could prepare for the SAFF Women’s Championship.

“We need to have a long-term plan in place to improve the team,” says ANFA’s women’s department chief Hari Khadka. “We need to give them better training and exposure only then will they be able to do well.”

Weak SAFF preparations

nepal women's football team
Nepal national women’s team before the SAFF Women’s Championship final match against India, in Biratnagar, on Friday, March 22, 2019.

Nepal once again will have to go through India if they want to win it all. In all the five editions of the SAFF Women’s Championship, India have been Nepal’s biggest nemesis. Nepal women’s football team have lost to them four times in the final and once in the semi-final. But, this year, Bangladesh will also pose a threat to Nepal.

Anjila Tumbapo Subba, the team’s goalkeeper, tells Onlinekhabar that since the closed camp had not started, the player’s psyche had been affected. Most of them felt they would once again end up on the losing end, especially against India.

“We always lose against India because we don’t get enough time for preparation,” says Subba.

Former women’s team coach Khadka agrees that preparations are not enough. He feels the team need to play a lot more games to compete with the likes of India.

“We shouldn’t have stopped the training camp that was taking place for the Asian Games,” says Khadka, adding that he has asked ANFA to start training as soon as possible.

Challenge to beat India

Nepal women’s football team are unbeaten against all the participants in the SAFF Women’s Championship apart from India. India are the powerhouse when it comes to women’s football in South Asia as they have won all five editions.

India continue to improve their team while Nepal have done nothing as such.

“India train for the entire year while we train when the tournament is around the corner. This is a major difference as they regularly play friendly matches while we don’t,” says Subba. “We won’t improve if we don’t train and play matches.”

Nepal women’s football team’s aim in every tournament is to beat India. If they beat India, it is almost certain that they will win the championship. But, looking at the preparations, it is highly unlikely that it will happen this year.

“Sure, having a goal and determination to beat India is good but that’ll not get us anywhere,” says Nepal’s goal machine Sabitra Bhandari. “We need proper coaching and regular training. Unless that happens, we’ll get nowhere.”

Need for a permanent coach

women's football team
The national women’s team has never had a permanent coach.

Bhandari feels that a major reason Nepal women’s football team have not been able to get better is not having a permanent coach. This means they do not even have regular training. Since coaches are appointed based on tournaments, players often are stuck in a dilemma on whose coaching methods they need to take under consideration.

Since Gary Phillips left in 2021, the team did not have a coach. Recently, Bal Gopal Maharjan, who did well for the men’s team as the head coach, was appointed the head coach for the Asian Games. But, he says he does not know if he will be given the responsibility to coach Nepal in the SAFF Women’s Championship.

“They gave me the responsibility to take the team to the Asian Games. I don’t know if I’ll be given the role to coach the team in the SAFF Championship,” says Maharjan.

It is likely that the decision will be made at ANFA’s executive committee meeting on Thursday.

Domestic environment

The women’s football team have been neglected for years. It is not just about international competitions. What disappoints players is the lack of domestic competitions too. Compared to men, women hardly take part in any competition.

ANFA did host another edition of the National Women’s League, but it failed to hold the second round of the league, which it said it would host in May. This will also be talked about at ANFA’s next executive meeting.

In a bid to improve women’s football, ANFA is planning to build an academy in Rautahat. But, due to legal disputes, its process is yet to start. New ANFA President Pankaj Bikram Nembang has said he will build on it during his term.

But, will he keep his promise?

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Dahal is a sports journalist at Onlinekhabar.

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