1996-07-08 00:00:00

The brief history of organized sports in modern Nepal, which has long been known for mountain climbing and trekking, is linked to the Jesuits´ influence in the country and their work with handicapped children.

Organized sports came to Nepal with the Society of Jesus when the country opened its borders to foreigners, including missioners, in the 1950s.

Some members of the royal family, including King Birendra Shah Dev, who actively encourages sports in Nepal, played hockey, cricket and volleyball in their schooling at Jesuit-run St. Joseph´s High School in Darjeeling, India.

In the 1950s and 1960s, two Jesuit priests, the late Fathers Edward Niesen and Marshall Moran, supported the organization of the first Kathmandu valley-wide and Pokhara-based sports and games.

A third Jesuit, Father Edward L. Watrin, who is in his 70s but still plays tennis every day, runs the Jesuit Alumnus association in Kathmandu, renowned countrywide for its organization of sports for all age groups.

Naturalized Nepali citizen Jesuit Father James Donnelly recalls how the three priests freely shared their sporting expertise with officials of the then-budding Sports Council in Nepal.

Father Donnelly told UCA News the three used to lay out track lines, fields and jump areas, select officials, time and judge events, and referee games.

"All of these sports officials and the participants were of course non-Christians," added the teacher, who in his youth had to decide between being a professional baseball player and a Jesuit missioner.

Jesuits in Nepal have also contributed to sports for the mentally and physically handicapped, helping a team of six wheelchair-bound athletes compete in the special competitions in Japan for the past six years.

Father Thomas Gafney and a Japanese priest, two Jesuits who run social service centers in Kathmandu and Pokhara respectively, have helped young non-Christian men to participate in the annual competition.

In 1994 the Nepal team came in 30th out of 30 teams. They were awarded that year´s Fair Play award for giving it their all in spite of their lack of training and poor equipment.

In 1987, a team of four handicapped children, all from the Kathmandu school founded by Maryknoll Father Adam Gudalefsky, won 5 medals in the International Special Olympics at Notre Dame College, Indiana, the United States.

Head coach Chirendra Satyal, a lay Catholic, recalls that "most parents told us after we came back that they had not even dreamed their slow children would so swiftly and highly glorify their families in front of the whole nation."

Nepal only started taking part in the Olympic Games in 1964, 60 years after their modern revival, and the country´s only Olympic medal was a bronze medal for Taekwando, a Korean martial art, won in the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Baikuntha Manandar, one of the country´s most popular athletes and a four-time marathon winner in the South Asian games, is living proof of the Jesuits´ impact, direct or indirect, on Nepali athletes.

When UCA News asked Manandar if he had studied in St. Xavier´s School, he replied, "No, but the inspiration to compete was built in me when I found that the boys from St. Xavier´s School always came first.

"I trained hard just to beat the trend of the Xaverians always coming first. I started coming first and trained harder to stay on top," he said.


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