The world cup tournaments may be a far-off dream for Bhutanese soccer players but intensive efforts are being put in place by Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) by grooming potential youths. The federation says they will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to promote the game in the country.Officials at BFF said unbiased opportunity is provided to every citizen through open announcements in the media annually. This is done to rope in the best players by providing a platform for the interested and potential footballers.
The federation has a strong selection team with diverse representation of all stakeholders committed to promotion of the game. The selection team comprises head coach, youth head coach, technical head, one representative from the local clubs and the national team captain.
Registered candidates are groomed through two intensive coaching camps for a month at Sarpang and Gelephu. The best of the best are selected from the coaching camps where 22 to 24 candidates all 19 years or below are usually selected. These players are further trained in Thimphu.
“The selection itself is very competitive and without vested interests” said BFF competition department’s Sonam Jigmi. Once at the excellence center, the players are not only trained in football but inculcated with wholesome grooming. “So, even after their career at BFF, these youth go out as responsible citizens,” said the BFF official.
After potential candidates are narrowed to a sizeable group BFF takes complete care of them. This includes transfer of schools in close consultation with the Ministry if it involves school-going youth. Football practice sessions are scheduled to not hinder the studies of the players. The practice timings are usually in the morning and evenings for an hour each so that students have a full day for studies.
In addition, BFF provides food and hostel facilities to these selected players. “We also sponsor school uniforms and stationeries for youths,” said Sonam Jigmi. BFF also looks for sponsors who will provide education for the football players. For instance, Royal Thimphu College absorbs two such youth while Ugyen Academy in Punakha considers a bonus point and provides half scholarship and Kelki Higher Secondary School also considers bonus points for players seeking enrollment in the school.
Those enrolled with BFF can also look forward to a career with the organization. This is because, few players are sent for further trainings and are absorbed within the federation as coaches and referee.
BFF also has plans in the offing for a player exchange programme with Nepal. This will happen next year. It also maintains close links with the local club players. They are also into marketing of players to the neighboring countries.
Lack of good infrastructure in the country is a major bottleneck. “We cannot maintain the football ground like in other countries,” he said adding that most of the time, the players land up playing in the dust. The football grounds in the country are usually strewn with pebbles and sharp object, posing great risk to the players. Most grounds in the country are dusty in winter, while the ground remains muddy in the summers.
The Changlimithang ground is considered the best in the country. Yet, there were many incidences where the players hurt themselves in the midst of the game.
BFF officials said that provision of continuous training is not possible because many don’t take football playing as a career, good-enough to sustain a livelihood.
However, players do receive support from the international body FIFA. Locally, Lhaki Cement sponsors the Samtse Dzongkhag football club while Penden Groups of Companies sponsors the Phuentsholing football club and Ugyen Academy sponsors Punakha football club which will compete in the Bhutan National League this December.
The Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) conducted a country-wide survey in order to streamline sports in the country found that a majority of the Bhutanese people are either interested to watch the games played on TV or in the field or interested to play the games themselves.
Football forms an integral part of wholesome education in schools and certain time is allocated for games in all schools. This is because, besides helping keep students physically fit and healthy, it also helps sharpen the students’ minds.
Currently Bhutan stands at 207th in the FIFA/Coca Cola world ranking at par with San Marino, and on rung above Mauritania in 206th. Bhutan with Montserrat, the-then two lowest ranks teams in the FIFA World Rankings played a game “The Other Final” in 2003 coinciding with the FIFA World Cup final. In the game played in Changlimithang Bhutan won the game 4-0, enabling Bhutan to climb a step up.