Asmita Kharel, a Nepalese professional cricket player and student of the Master in Sport Management with a scholarship from The Cruyff Athlete Fund, is preparing to be a leader in sport management when she retires
Asmita Kharel has reached the top in her sport, perhaps driven by that mountain-climbing gene found in the DNA of the people of Nepal, the country of eight-thousanders, the highest mountains on earth. Overcoming obstacles is part of her character, although she decided in her case not to move from the Kathmandu valley and bet everything on cricket. Asmita was born, raised and continues to live in the capital at the foot of the Himalayas. She is a professional cricketer and student of the Master in Sport Management at Johan Cruyff Institute, thanks to a scholarship from The Cruyff Athlete Fund.
Being the only girl with a bat in her hands didn’t stop her from standing out among her group of childhood friends. “I belong to the generation of the 1990s, who could play on the street. When I was little I was always surrounded by boys, my brothers and their friends, with a lot of mud everywhere. With them, I played mainly football and cricket, and I always asked my mother for a bat and a ball as a birthday present,” recalls Asmita.
Cricket is the most popular sport in Nepal, but it is not easy to break into the elite. She has been a professional player for seven years and, although she will be 30 in November, she wants to extend her sports career for another year. At the moment, she combines cricket with her studies, and assures that “the Cruyff Athlete Fund scholarship to study the master in sport management has played a vital role in my sports career.” In this interview, she explains how she has managed to climb her particular mountain and keep aiming high.
How did you start playing cricket and become professional?
I came to know about the Nepali women’s team’s back in 2007 after its first international participation. I have always wanted to try this game, since I was so attached to it as a child. I used to follow the games on TV. Wanting to get into the game professionally represents a big challenge for oneself here in Nepal. It was in 2013 that I went for a trial and it was a player hunt program for an event. That’s where I knew the road to take part in the National Games. I went on to play selection games for Kathmandu, my hometown, in 2013 and I got selected to represent Kathmandu in the National Games. I have been playing for seven years now.
“I feel that if you can manage sport and studies together, they will help each other to enhance your performance in both the fields”
If you hadn’t become a professional cricket player, what do you think your life would be like now?
I had never thought of choosing this field as a career before. Sport was limited to passion. I completed my bachelor’s degree in business studies and I was also doing a chartered accountancy course back then. Maybe, I would have ended up choosing accountancy. In 2013, I had a gap year and I was waiting for my bachelor’s result. Meanwhile, it was in 2013 that I got connected to cricket. I played out of passion in the initial days and never thought of continuing this far. Slowly, I got the opportunity to work at sports events as well, and I came across people with a sporting mind. That’s where my career shifted. I started building ideas about events, projects and sporting dreams. I’ve been combining my job in cricket with my professional career as an athlete so far.
Is it a myth that professional athletes can’t combine sport and studies?
Yes, I think it is a myth. To do sport and studies together can be challenging, but it’s not like you have to choose either one. You need to maintain a balance between both and manage your time effectively. You can do well in both the fields. In fact, I feel that if you can manage sport and studies together, they will help each other to enhance your performance in both the fields.
How has your journey been so far throughout the Master in Sport Management?
Really challenging. And I’m loving the journey, too. It was really challenging to keep up with the assignments, readings and deadlines in the initial days. The transformation of knowledge has really been very helpful. I came to learn about so many concepts and cases in sport. I have really enjoyed learning and doing the activities throughout. To be honest, I am so used to logging on to the virtual campus and going through the different activities. I have just a few more months to complete the course and I’m surely going to miss all these activities.
“As a player, you have certain limitations; it can be the age factor, performance or injuries. Education will assist an athlete in the long term to continue with work and jobs”
How important is education for athletes during their sports career?
I think education is vital for an athlete, too. As a player, you have certain limitations; it can be the age factor, performance or injuries. Your playing career is for a certain number of years and it will come to an end one day. What to do after your playing career ends? Education will assist an athlete in the long term to continue with work and jobs. Also, I think if an athlete is knowledgeable, they can transfer, communicate and share their knowledge to others more effectively.
Do you think it’s possible to combine sport and studies and still perform at a very high level?
I think it’s possible though it can be very challenging and also depends on how effectively you can manage your time and energy. I think it is all about balancing the things in the right way. If your first priority is sport, you can always work out how you can incorporate your studies into your routine. During travel, tournaments and high performance training periods, you might skip classes, assignments and exams. But, you can always readjust with your studies once your schedule gets flexible.
What is your favorite aspect of sport management and why?
Learning from this program, I have really liked the concepts of event management, facilities management, strategic management, entrepreneurship and innovation. I also really like the concept of athlete management. Among all these, if I had to choose one, it would be sports event production and management. I feel that managing a sports event is very challenging and fun at the same time. A sporting event has so much to do with creating a strong brand and strong legacy, which really inspires you to keep yourself challenged, motivated and innovative.
You are involved as a freelance in sporting events. What has your role been in the ones in which you have participated?
I have worked as an event coordinator. I have been responsible for developing event proposals and providing graphic design services. I have also coordinated a local girls’ futsal team for three years.
“Coming to the end of a professional athlete career is not easy to cope with. It’s really important to prepare your mind before your retirement takes place”
How do you think athletes should use their platform to better prepare for retirement?
Coming to the end of a professional athlete career is not easy to cope with. As an athlete, you have different phases, highs and lows. I think the first way is to recognize where you stand. If you are performing well and consistently, how many years can you carry on for? If you are on the low side, can you overcome the obstacles? I think it is really important to prepare your mind before your retirement takes place. What are you going to do after your retirement? I think this question needs to be planned and solved a few years before your retirement so that, when it’s time, you can shift and adapt to changes in an easy way.
When are you planning to retire and what do you want to do then?
I am still planning to play for a few more years. After that, I would want to get involved with managing sports events and projects. In the long term, there are two sectors that I would love to get engaged with. One is a cricket academy. The other is cricket events production and management. Something that would create a strong impact and leave a strong legacy behind.
What are your thoughts on initiatives such as The Cruyff Athlete Fund?
It’s a really good initiative. Encouraging an athlete to pursue education and highlighting the importance of education in an athlete’s journey is a very good and important message. I think the scholarship provided by The Cruyff Athlete Fund is a golden opportunity for an athlete like me who dreams of being able to continue working in the sports sector even after their professional playing career comes to an end. This scholarship opportunity has played a vital role in boosting my sporting career and enhancing my sporting knowledge.
When you applied for the scholarship, you said that you wanted to create new opportunities in your country? Do you now have a better idea about how you could contribute to this?
Yes, absolutely. Before, I only had a rough idea of what I wanted to create. But now I have more knowledge and ideas about how to work with things in a better way. The transfer of knowledge from this course has been very beneficial for me. Now, I have acquired ideas in the different modules on sport management and this has helped me develop a better idea of how to contribute towards creating new opportunities.