By Usha Wagle Gautam
Sanjeeb Ranabhat, the founding president of Nepalese Football Team-Qatar (NFT), has been in Qatar since 2004. Apart from his association with NFT, he works as an administration manager at United Precast Concrete Co.
Community caught up with him about his time in Qatar and his long association with his brainchild, NFT.
Q. How did the idea of forming the Nepalese Football Team-Qatar (NFT) come into your mind?
A. I am a huge football fan. Since coming to Doha, I have been a regular at football playoffs happening across the city, be they international or club matches. For a time I also played a few matches, and organised a mini-tournament before forming NFT.
It was a while before we got a chance to play our first friendly game against the Indonesian team. Then we came to know about the Asian Community Football Tournament (ACFT), to be organised by Qatar Football Association (QFA).
We missed the first instalment of ACFT as we were not formally registered to participate. The idea of forming a Nepalese football team (which would be then known as NFT) came to my mind. I shared this idea with my closest friends — Prakash, Hari, Rajaram, Rakesh and Krishna — and we decided to work together to form such a team. s
We started screening players through our circles and other local clubs, and finally created a squad of 25 players, who later participated in the second ACFT. During that selection, we came to know that many professional Nepalese players are working in Doha.
It was not an easy task to get them to come together, as everybody has a day job. It is a big challenge for us to continue with formal training and to provide other facilities to our players. This sort of thing was not a common practice when we started NFT. We started the trend of providing formal training to the players among the community football teams here in Qatar.
The team was informally established and was recognised as a community team by QFA but it wasn’t until December 2015 that we were recognised by the Nepalese embassy. Our motto is that Nepalese are not only workers but also skilled players.
Q. Historically Nepalese are more inclined to the game of football and Qatar is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. What do you think?
Sports are all about passion. We Nepalese have a certain football fever within us, from the small and narrow streets to open spaces to football pitches: we only see football, football and football in Nepal.
The same craze is present inside us wherever we go. Nepalese attend all football events, small and big, in large numbers and with great enthusiasm. There are more than 30 Nepalese football clubs here, playing friendly matches and tournaments on a weekly and monthly basis, which shows our passion for the game of football.
Qatar has become a second home to us; at this time nearly 400,000 Nepalese are working here. Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup 2022 gives us hope and provides a golden opportunity for all Asian countries to be a part of the mega event. All football fans have a dream to watch a World Cup once in their lifetimes. We are lucky that we will get a chance to see that dream being realised in 2022.
Q. Footballers associated with the NFT are also busy doing their regular jobs, how do they manage to practice?
As I mentioned earlier, we all have day jobs that we need in order to support our families back home.
We dedicate our free time and holidays to football. All our players are workers, and need to put in 8 to 11 hours a day. They are also spread across Doha. It’s not like back home, that we will find any grassy field to play on.
In Doha, finding a proper ground is difficult and even if we do manage it, transporting players to the facility is another challenge. We usually practice in the evenings because of our regular work schedules.
I am really surprised by the dedication of our players. Despite fulltime jobs, they give football their all. This thing really motivates us to keep moving forward; this is all about passion and the dream that pushes us forward and keeps us together as NFT family.
Q. How do you facilitate trainings for your players? Do they get formal coaching?
Once we had a formal NFT team, our next challenge was to find a proper training ground. We have managed to get hold of a field in Mesaieed, which was comparatively cheaper.
Since we established NFT, Mesaieed has been our home ground. Our first coach was Prakesh, but training wasn’t limited to him — we used to all work as a team. In the second season we had, Pincal as the Head Coach and Samuel as the Fitness Coach.
This season we have two Nepalese coaches — Pincal and Sanjeev Wiba, both former players and part of various clubs in Nepal and also here in Doha. Our approach is to pitch in all of our ideas and go on from there.
Q. Are you satisfied with the performance of your players?
Once the team was formed and registered for ACFT, our first official friendly match was played with the Malaysian Community Team on February 28, 2014. This was just before the second instalment of ACFT. We managed to beat the Malaysian team 3-0, which was shocking for other teams. They didn’t believe that we Nepalese also play football and beat a team that was the runner-up of the first ACFT.
In that tournament we reached the semi-finals, losing to Indonesia. We also lost the third-place match to Lebanon, but our player Suraj Century grabbed the Best Player of the Tournament award.
We also had a couple of friendly tournaments in collaboration with Chitwan Youth Welfare Society and Al Ahli Sports Club.
In the third AFCT, we came in stronger than before. Again we managed to get to the semi-finals, but lost to India. However we were able to win the third-place match.
Now that we are in the middle of the fourth ACFT, we again have presented ourselves strongly, by winning all the three matches we have played so far — this time we are ready to grab the champion’s trophy and we have worked hard for that.
We have found that Lebanon, Jordon and India are tough teams. But we are confident of reaching the final this time, and our players and management team have worked hard for that goal.
Q. How do you fund Nepalese Football Team?
It’s not an easy task, yet we have strong support from within our team. For the first 18 months, we contributed from our own pockets. Then we had an agreement with Al Ahli Sports Club, but that ended last year. For the past year, we were again funding the team from our own pockets. For this season, we are in the process of finalising a sponsorship deal with City Express Money Transfer. But all our costs will not be covered by the sponsor, so we will still have to contribute some money from our pockets.
Q. NFT is popular among Nepalese in Qatar. Do you see any opportunities of co-ordinating with the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) and the football body of Qatar to promoting the game?
We are still trying to establish ourselves in Qatar and figuring out how to take our team to ANFA, or if there is a chance of us getting any kind of recognition from them. We are already recognised by QFA under ACFT, and we are also figuring out how to take our team to other government bodies.
Q. How often does the NFT participate in tournaments? Are you satisfied with the quantity and quality of the tournaments you play?
We are really thankful to Qatar Football Association for their initiative of organising a wonderful event for the Asian communities in the form of the Asian Community Football Tournament. At this time, we have only one major tournament in the year, but we do play a few friendly matches. We hope we get chances to participate in more tournaments in future.
Q. What support do you expect from the non-resident Nepalese community in Qatar?
We have more than 100 community organisations registered with the Nepalese embassy. Basically any sports team can survive only through sponsorships. And we need the same — we have to find a strong sponsor who will help us provide all that our team needs to get to the next level. If the Nepalese living in Qatar come and support us, we will be able to find good sponsors who will sustain us in the long run.
Q. Do you have anything to say to the supporters of your team? And do you have any future plans or projects planned for your team?
Due to financial problems in Nepal, a lot of good players have migrated aboard and Qatar is one of the popular destinations. We are trying our best to collaborate with all those players; but we are also trying to get to those who did not get opportunities in Nepal despite being interested in football.
We are trying our best to establish this team and earn recognition for our country as a football-loving nation. I will like to request all Nepalese residents in Qatar to come and support us and our players to achieve our goals and to prove that “Nepalese are not only workers but also skilled players”.
We need more facilities for our players to continue playing football and one of our dreams is to play in Nepal as Nepalese Football Team. We are also planning to organise a Nepal Cup in Qatar this year.
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