New Ground, Old Hurdles
By Pranab Man Singh, Cricinfo - Published September 2016
In the euphoria of Nepal's widely broadcasted wins against Hong Kong and Afghanistan in the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh, cricket captured the nation's imagination. Here was a sport that the country could compete in at the elite level, a team that could do the proud nation some good. Not long after, Nepal was granted T20 international status, raising hopes of seeing them play more regularly on the international stage.
Suddenly everyone was a cricket fan. Games of cricket started popping up in backyards and open spaces. The sport became a regular topic of conversation in teashops and bars. The popularity of cricket fuelled hope that a proper domestic league would finally be set up. Looking into the future, cricket fans saw Nepal playing ODIs, and eventually Test cricket, on a regular basis.
A few months after Nepal's remarkable performance in Bangladesh, and under pressure from the ICC to professionalise its management, the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) hired 31-year-old Bhawana Ghimire as its first CEO. When news of her appointment filtered out, it was greeted with both fanfare and scepticism. Was she the best choice? Was she a political pawn? People were excited to see a new face, a young face, at a time when the CAN board was overseen by the 83-year-old Tarini Bikram Shah. To top it off, a woman had been appointed to professionalise a sporting institution that had, for all of Shah's eight decades, been rooted in patriarchy and aristocracy. Was it even possible?
Despite CAN's entrenched problems and notoriously storied politics, Ghimire had no hesitation in taking on the job. "I anticipated challenges," she said to me in February. "But cricket has so much potential in Nepal and I felt that I could contribute to make it the biggest sport in Nepal."
Bhawana Ghimire, CEO of Cricket Association of Nepal
Ghimire instantly became a celebrity. Her mandate included maintaining communications with the Asian Cricket Council (ACC), ICC, and Nepal's governing bodies; running the CAN office; and reaching out to sponsors and other stakeholders for the promotion of cricket. Leveraging her new-found fame, Ghimire consistently pushed her agenda of professionalising cricket. She worked closely with Pubudu Dassanayake, the former Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-turned-Nepal coach, to draft a 70-page five-year plan.
Six months into the job she presented the plan to the board. It was never approved. "I don't know if anyone even read it," she says with sadness.
Taking on responsibility has been a cornerstone of Ghimire's upbringing. The oldest of three siblings, she raised her brother and sister in Kathmandu after they moved from their parental village in Arghakhanchi. She was in sixth grade at the time.
"It was the first time I had seen or ridden a bus. It was all new to me," she says, before going silent and reflective. "I guess I left my childhood in the village. My mother stayed back in the village and when my father was at work, I had to be the responsible one. My father enrolled me in Padma Kanya Higher Secondary School, and I remember, on the third day I went to school all by myself. It sounds trivial now, but that day, after I got home, I felt like I had become an independent woman."
Ghimire isn't an imposing figure but she carries herself with measured confidence. She is smartly dressed in a suit, and her eyes hold a steady resolve, a trait she has relied on when dealing with the mighty men of CAN. Unlike most Nepali girls, who are raised to be obedient wives, Ghimire grew up in a household that encouraged her to be freethinking and independent. "It's always been like that with my family," she shrugs. "I was given the freedom to choose what I studied and what I did. I never had to think about things in a gendered sense until I got this job."
Ghimire and her staff at work at an office at the Tribhuvan University ground
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