Football – Nepal’s Most Popular Sport
As the most popular sport in the country, football in Nepal is governed by ANFA – the All Nepal Football Association – which is responsible for national and club competitions. ANFA was established in 1951 and has been affiliated with FIFA since 1970. In March 2012, FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter visited Nepal, where he met with a number of officials, including the country’s President and Prime Minister, to pledge FIFA’s support to the game of football in Nepal and to inaugurate the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup.
Football is thought to have been started in Nepal in 1921, during the rule of the Rana dynasty. It quickly gained in popularity as a spectator sport, and despite the turmoil in the country, and the government banning the game at one point, teams were formed and competitions were played. With huge public support for football in Nepal, in 2004 the authorities relaxed its previous prohibition of the game and the prime-minister at the time, Padam Shamsher, inaugurated the Ram Janaki Football tournament. Following democracy in 2007, the Nepal Police Force team won the tournament and trophy for the third time. They handed the trophy to the Nepal Football Association and the name was changed to the Martyr’s Memorial League Tournament, which continues to be played each year.
Major football tournaments played in Nepal include the First Division National League, with the Second Division including the aforementioned Martyr’s Memorial A-Division League and the Regional Martyrs Memorial A-Division League. The Third and Fourth Division include a Martyr’s Memorial and Regional Martyr’s Memorial (B and C Divisions respectively), which Major Cup games include the Budha Subba Gold Cup and Aaha Gold Cup. While the Martyr’s Tournaments are held in Kathmandu, The Budha Subba Gold Cup is held in Dharan in Eastern Nepal, while the Aaha Gold Cup takes place in Pokhara.
Notable Nepali football players include Rohit Chand, who currently plays for the HAL Indian football club from Bangalore; Ju Manu Rai, who plays for both the Nepal Police Club and the National Nepal Team; Anil Gurung, who plays for the Kathmandu-based Manang Marshyangdi Club and the National Nepal Team; and Santosh Sahukhala, who also playes for Manang Marshyangdi Club.
Primarily due to financial concerns, some football tournaments have had to be cancelled at various times. However, with increased support from FIFA, it appears that players and their enthusiastic supporters can look forward plenty of exciting in football in Nepal.