Disgraced Thapa Gets His Just Desserts: Narayan Upadhyay

Yet another disgraceful event has happened in Nepali football. After the shocking revelation of match fixing committed by several senior Nepali players just a few weeks ago, the Nepali football chief, Ganesh Thapa, has been slapped with a 10-year-long suspension along with a fine of 20,000 Swiss francs. FIFA imposed the ban on Thapa's involvement in all national and international football activities after the Ethics Committee of the world football's governing body found him engaging in corruption and abusing his position as the chief of the football association of a member nation and Asian football.  

 

The ban by FIFA, which itself is passing through a critical period in its history owing to the ongoing investigation against many of its senior officials, including President Sepp Blatter, has effectively ended Thapa's soccer career. Thapa, who is also a Member of Parliament, will certainly have a tough time keeping his seat following the suspension.

 

CIAA’s motive questioned

The strong action from the world football body has indeed raised questions over the earlier decision of Nepal's anti-graft body, CIAA, to put on hold its investigation against Thapa's alleged act of corruption and abuse of authority as the nation's football chief. Earlier, the Parliament's Public Accounts Committee had found Thapa guilty of financial misconduct running to Rs. 580 million and had recommended the Sports Ministry and the CIAA to conduct a thorough investigation against Thapa and take appropriate action. However, Thapa who wields great clout escaped punishment from the nation's authorities responsible for taking against officials accused of financial misconduct.

 

Even as charges of financial misappropriation kept piling up, it was surprising to see him nominated as a parliamentarian from the RPP-Nepal, headed by his elder brother Kamal Thapa. The nomination was clearly made to shield Thapa from  any action, which might have jeopardised his involvement in Nepali football. But FIFA’s ban has put a moral onus on his brother's party: whether Thapa should be allowed to remain a parliamentarian or shown the door. Although the disgraced Thapa has said he would appeal against the suspension, it is unlikely that FIFA would commute the long ban it has imposed on him.

 

The suspension was long due and expected.  It took longer in coming because FIFA itself has been mired in cases of corruption and abuse of position by many of its senior officials. FIFA's action against Thapa finally came the other day after its Ethics Committee-led investigation found Thapa had taken bribes in 2009 and 2011 during the FIFA elections in exchange for his votes to a prospective FIFA presidential candidate.

 

This issue came to the fore when the international media broke the news that the then candidate for FIFA president, Mohammad-Bin-Hammam, a Qatari national and then president of the Asian Football Confederation, had deposited US$ 100,000 in the bank account of Thapa’s son. After the revelation, his son gave up his lucrative job at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and returned to Nepal to save himself from possible arrest. Although Thapa has denied taking money from Hammam in exchange for his vote, he, however, accepted that he had borrowed that money for some domestic reason. It now appears that the FIFA Ethics Committee did not buy his argument.

 

A former national skipper, Thapa has been involved in Nepali football for the past four decades, both as a player and an official. He has spent two decades as the boss of the All Nepal Football Association (ANFA). During his reign, he drew more criticism than praise for his authoritative style of functioning as the football boss.

 

For the past many years, he has been under fire for allegations of misappropriating ANFA funds in Nepal. ANFA had frequently received good amounts of money from FIFA under its Goal Project. But many allege that Thapa siphoned off much of the funds and used only a pittance in the development of football. He is often accused of depositing FIFA funds in his individual bank accounts, while overlooking to maintain the financial records of ANFA in a transparent way.

 

As accusations of his financial misconduct and abuse of authority raged on, several ANFA officials - three vice presidents and an executive member - revolted against him and lodged complaints of financial misconduct and abuse of power at FIFA, the AFC and the Public Accounts Committee as well at the CIAA.

 

Reacting to the complaints, the Public Accounts Committee initiated its investigation and came out with a damning report about Thapa's activities. But FIFA's Ethics Committee, whose antenna went up over the brewing FIFA scandals and scam in recent times too, turned its attention towards officials like Thapa only to hand over the severest punishment to him.  

 

During Thapa's two-decade-long reign as the Nepali football boss, Nepali football never made any tangible progress. The Nepali senior team never won a single international title. Nepal slid to its lowest FIFA football ranking - 192nd out of 2008 nations. Several football facilities built with FIFA assistance have turned useless in recent times. Thapa has also been accused of not paying the prize money in time to the clubs that have won different league titles during various periods, though he has frequently hiked the amounts of the prize money of several football tournaments with a view to drawing praises for him.

 

Recently, he has been plagued by the new but damning revelation that many Nepali players were involved in throwing Nepal's matches in return for a handful of dollars. There were times when the entire team members had received some money after Nepali teams lost international matches. The Nepali players have been involved in match fixing since 2008. Some of the key players - from skipper, goalie and defenders to coaches - were deeply involved in match fixing.

 

What surprised us most was the revelation that ANFA president Thapa had known about the Nepali players' involvement in match fixing, but he never took action against them to stop the rot. His reluctance to take action has raised many questions. He might have left these erring players unharmed for fear that any revelation about match-fixing would have harmed his own position.

 

Thapa, who brought disrepute to Nepali football through his foul acts, has indeed received his just desserts from FIFA. As a Nepali and Asian senior football official, he is guilty of harming Nepali as well as international football because of his corrupt acts.

 

Welcome relief

His departure from both Nepali and international football is indeed a welcome relief for the many Nepali football fans. However, his long absence will nevertheless pose a big question - what will happen and who will lead Nepali football after him?

 

If we throw a cursory glance over the very make-up of Nepal's football organisation, we will notice that a large number of soccer officials, coaches and several players are Thapa loyalists. Many well known past footballers and officials have now thrown their weight behind the disgraced Thapa. And it is certain that these people will try to emulate Thapa if they are given the reign of Nepali football, which must not be allowed to happen again.

 

The Nepali soccer body must be cleaned of all the vices Thapa has left there. Football is the most popular game in our nation, and it would be a disservice to the Nepali football fans if ANFA remains without capable and honest officials who can take the nation's football out of the present morass and guide it to a newer height. Thapa and his cronies must be stopped from casting his shadow over Nepali football again, for he has done more harm than good to the most popular game of the nation.

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