Plenty of hard work is going into pushing the sport in the Asian nation

The uphill climb to grow rugby in Nepal

There are no prizes for guessing what one of the greatest challenges to face rugby’s trek across Nepal is. “Our geographical structure is so varied,” the union’s general secretary Chetan Raj Giri says of a nation rippled with mountain ranges, including the Himalayas and Mount Everest.

“We have lowland that makes up 15% (of the country), like in Terai. Hilly areas are 67% and mountains make up 18%. So it’s very difficult to reach out but we are focused on high-density areas of each province. We have seven provinces and have seven small teams in all provinces.

“The far West and Karnali Province is the hardest to reach. It has less infrastructure and low-income areas.”

Despite the inherent challenges, there is ambition in Nepali rugby.

grow rugby in Nepal

Helping the push: A Japanese expat team in Nepal in 2019 (Chetan Giri)

At the start of the month, the Nepal Rugby Association – based in Kathmandu – applied to join World Rugby as an associate member. In May, World Rugby had already welcomed Jordan, Qatar and Turkey as associate members.

Back in 2014, Nepal joined Asia Rugby. Since then the union has set about pushing the Get Into Rugby programme wherever they can and putting on domestic tournaments and regional events.

Happenstance brought Giri to rugby. An international umpire, he was in New Zealand for the 2011 World Taekwondo Championships. At the time, the country was gripped by anticipation for Rugby World Cup 2011 and Giri was encouraged to find out more by local figures. After seeing rugby in Wellington, he was hooked. Upon returning to Nepal he sought out the national federation.

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In 2012 the Association was overhauled, and in the years since steps have been taken to grow the game. Volunteers are at the heart of this as finances are understandably tough and governmental support is hard to come by, according to Giri. But they have fought hard to gain more public recognition.

Tournaments have been held, tours organised. In 2015, their men’s and women’s teams made their bow at the Asia Rugby Development Sevens in Chennai. In 2017, a big leap also saw them play in the Asia Rugby Men’s Sevens Trophy in Doha.

So is there something about the Nepali people that is compatible with the sport of rugby?

grow rugby in Nepal

Campaign: A Rugby World Cup event in the capital Kathmandu, 2019 (Chetan Giri)

“Yes, this is the nice question,” Giri begins. “I want to tell you that with the most popular sports like cricket, soccer – even in track and field – players from those areas in the Nepal, if we can invest, we can also find potential players from there.

“But I believe the product should be rugby, not (converting) others. So we have to educate the players from school level, so that we focus on schools and we’re going to lobby the education ministry to put (rugby) in each school.

“We will also interfere, to talk with local authorities. This is easiest to do in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Surkhet. The climate in Nepal is very good for rugby too, I think…”

grow rugby in Nepal

Field of play: A pitch in Kathmandu, in 2018 (Getty Images)

The most pressing need for the Nepalese game, according to Giri, is getting more qualified coaches and managers. They need more equipment and kit, too. Finally, they need exposure. You would wager that becoming an associate member with World Rugby can help with this.

There is some rugby expertise that comes back from the UK every year, too.

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As Giri lays out: “When the Gurkha (soldiers) come back from the UK, for their holidays to their own homes, they will bring jerseys, balls and other logistic support. They will join us for some events as an expat team, as the Gurkha army and sometimes with the British Embassy. We have some programmes like this every year – two missions like this.”

With an uphill climb to grow rugby in Nepal, those in love with the game there are showing plenty of spirit.

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