Sahara Football Academy

Nepal's striker Anil Gurung is a product of Sahara Academy. The children who are currently at the Academy idolize the star player.

Nepal’s striker Anil Gurung is a product of Sahara Academy. The children who are currently at the Academy idolize the star player.

I haven’t worked on many sports stories, but the ones that I wrote were exciting and adventurous — trekking up to the Everest Base Camp to cover the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon in 2010 and paragliding with Sano Babu Sunuwar, the NatGeo Adventurer of the year 2012, have surely been some extraordinary experiences.

This summer, I had an opportunity to hang out with Nepal’s football stars in the making, if I may say so. At the Sahara Football Academy in Pokhara, I met 13 children who will be trained with the sole motive to make them national players. The children, who come from diverse backgrounds from different parts of the country, will live in the Academy until they’re 16.

The Academy’s former graduate includes one of Nepal’s biggest names in football: Anil Gurung.

As I started talking to the children, Anil was the first name that almost everyone was fond of. And why not? He’s the country’s star striker.

Anil’s story goes back to the days when he himself was a part of Sahara. I met the humble sports star while he was preparing for the South Asian Football Championship, and during an hour’s conversation he mentioned the ways Sahara has shaped him; he credits the Academy and the Club for helping to reach his current status.

Like the children who look up to Anil — he said he was more than happy to find this out — the country’s striker said he idolized  former national players like Basanta Thapa and Basanta Gauchan.

Nepal’s sporting scene, in lot many ways, still seems to be in an infant stage. Though sports and sports person are getting the recognition and respect, there’s still a long way to go internationally. The country however has created history in terms of cricket — Nepal has qualified for the World Twenty20.

Young and successful stars like Anil and Nepali cricket captain Paras Khadka have become mascots of success — young people interested in sports look up to them and dream of becoming like them. That is an accomplishment in itself. While many sports enthusiasts look up to international sporting stars, it’s an absolute moment of pride, when their sporting idols are home-bred heroes like Anil and Paras.

STORY: Here’s the story I wrote about Sahara Football Academy for The National

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