During his Nepal visit two years ago, FIFA President Sepp Blatter had said, “Nepal plays good, but there is lack of Messi.” Blatter made the comment after watching the inaugural match of AFC Cup in a beautifully decorated Dasharath Stadium in the capital city. Blatter might have missed Messi, but Nepal’s poorest district Mugu hasn’t. But why did the district, which does not have even a single stadium, regard a local woman footballer as Messi? At one side is the most expensive footballer in the world – Lionel Messi, and the other is Mugu which lies at the bottom of Nepali districts in terms of human development index. So why did the entire district showed huge respect on the young footballer and heap praises on her? Why did they chant slogans like ‘Sunakali is like Messi’? How did football instill confidence on people of Mugu that they also can more forward? At a time when World Cup 2014 being staged in Brazil has gripped the country and Nepalis cheering for their best teams donning their respective jerseys, these photos might clarify the relation between the Messi of the remote Mugu and the district’s relationship with football.
You have already seen some pictures from a documentary named ‘Sunakali’ directed by journalist Bhojraj Bhat in this blog. There you saw how the young women footballer of Mugu trekked for two days to play a friendly match with Humla. After being defeated, they return home disappointed. No one cares the losers. According to news reports, not a single fan turned up at the airport when Team England home from Brazil a few days ago.
The women toiled. They tried hard to secure a 2-2 draw. But Humla emerged won the match on tie-breaker. The players of Mugu were beaten and they returned home. Once home, their normal activities resume – school and household works.
Sunakali’s home lies at the base of Chankheli Lek which lies at an altitude of 4,500 meters. They claimed mountain pictured on Rupee 1 bank note is none other than Chankheli Lek, but actually it is Mt. Ama Dablam.
Sunakali with her friends.
Sunakali with her father, mother and three younger brothers.
Mugu has its own pains and difficulties. Only five percent of total land is arable. Local food production can meet the demand for only three months. The district is dependent on transportation grant provided by the government and INGOs for the remaining nine months. See the hands of girls in this photo.
The women collect fodder in snowy field. For lunch, they eat bread with snow.
To work from dawn till dusk is their normal daily activities.
But football is played in such a difficult place as well. This is why the sport is popular all over the world. The women of Mugu saw football for the first time in 2011 only.
‘DREAM OF VICTORY’
After two months of facing defeat from Humla in tie-breaker, women footballers of Mugu got opportunity to participate in national football tournament to be held in Kailali. Again they walked for two days to reach Talcha airstrip. There their coach had said, “You are the women’s team of Mugu. You are the pride of the entire Karnali zone. That is why you have to labor hard. You shouldn’t be afraid of anything. You should have a dream to win, only then you will win. We will be laborious and play with great attention.”
The journey to Kailali was important not only because the girls were competing in a national level tournament. They were setting foot on the plains of Tarai for the first time. They were used to walking in mountains and inclined areas. This was the first time they were leaving their district. Also they were seeing plane, rickshaws and bullock cart for the first time. They were seeing the real development for the first time in their life.
Mugu’s first game was with the Badikhel Team of Lalitpur. This was the first time they got to see fair and well-built city denizens. While players of Mugu could speak Nepali with great difficulty, players of Badikhel spoke English with flair. But these well-built city denizens could run for only 10-15 minutes, girls of Mugu, who grew up in the hills, showed great stamina. They were running in the ground for the entire 90 minutes.
Mugu’s Sunakali Budha, who was wearing the No. 12 jersey, completed hat-trick. Team Badikhel was defeated, and their players started crying.
The organizers arranged motorbikes for team members of Mugu and Humla as they suffered motion sickness in tractors. The girls were riding motorcycles for the first time in their life. Humla, which had defeated Mugu two months ago, lost to Tikapur team of Kailali in a tie-breaker. Two months ago players of Mugu were crying, now it was the time for Humla players to cry.
Mugu’s next game was with Baliya Team of Kailali. In this match also, Sunakali Budha scored first. The goal proved decisive and Mugu entered the semifinal. Team Patharaiya was Mugu’s opponent in the semifinal. The match was competitive. But Sunakali Budha managed to score in this match as well. It was sufficient to take Team Mugu to final.
Mugu played final match with Team Tikapur. Sunakali Budha scored in this match as well.
Ultimately, the goal handed Team Mugu its first trophy.
Tikapur’s goalie fainted after following Mugu’s victory. Who got the best striker award? Who else, Mugu’s Sunakali Budha.
Thus Team Mugu lifted the national champion. This was the first time Team Mugu had won a nationwide tournament. Team Mugu was an underdog but it went on to lift the trophy. The victory created big waves in Mugu. Mugu folks, who were living with inferiority complex, got an opportunity to hold their head up high.
The team landed at Talcha airstrip with the trophy. It was very difficult to build the team as villages lie at a walk of one or two day.
Parents of the all players had arrived at the airstrip to welcome their daughters. The girls received warm welcome. Locals also performed Hudka dance to welcome Team Mugu.
The girls had to walk for two days to reach their respective villages. But locals had arranged horses for them.
It is unusual for women in Mugu to ride horse. They have seen only the king and queen astride horses.
But they got the opportunity to ride horses for the first time.
People in all the villages on the way welcomed the girls. Nepal Army also felicitated the girls. Some gave them football, while some provided cash. Some even offered garlands made of banknotes to the footballers.
Even women and children were there to welcome the footballers. They were chanting slogans like ‘How is Sunakali? Like Messi !!’. It seems that the girls had won a World Cup. The entire district had united for the celebration.
You might be enjoying FIFA World Cup 2014 being held in Brazil. But for Mugu folks the victory is like the World Cup. You might be enjoying the moves of Messi and Mueller et al. But form them Sunakali is like Messi as she has brought happiness in the face of Mugu folks.
You are free to support your best teams and best players in the World Cup. But don’t forget Mugu and their favorite lady Messi. Football is played not only in the stadiums of capital city and Brazil, but also in Mugu. Football gives equal energy and happiness to Mugu folks like you get when you best team wins in the World Cup.
But Mugu folks have another thing to worry about. As the girls achieved what boys hadn’t achieved, it changed the society’s perspective toward girls. They say: “We are happy. In other countries, women don’t marry until they are 30. Here, girls elope at the age of 18 or 19. If they stop playing at such a young age, who will make the district proud. This is a serious matter.”
These pictures have been taken from documentary titled ‘Sunakali’ directed by journalist Bhojraj Bhat ([email protected]). It is being premiered in Kathmandu in July. The producers are also arranging charity shows in different parts of the world as per the demand.