Although there were thousands of football fans and enthusiasts filling every single seat in the Changlimithang National Stadium during second leg of the World Cup qualifying match played on March 17, however, hundreds more spectators wanted to be let into the stadium. They left disappointed as they were denied entry into the stadium which was packed to the brim.
Instead, they had to rush to the nearest television set to watch the LIVE match on the national TV, Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS). After all, it was a historic World Cup qualifying match, Bhutan vs Sri Lanka, in the evening of March 17. It was made all the more exciting after Bhutan won the first leg, 1-0, against Sri Lanka in Colombo on March 12.
The Stadium Manager, Ugyen Dorji, said he was deeply worried as the stadium had exceeded its capacity of 15,000, as approved by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). He also highlighted on the need to have more chairs in the stadium, required as per the FIFA rules, which was lacking.
The stadium had filled up considerably during just the warm up session itself. Ugyen Dorji said that as overcrowding is risky and following the FIFA rule, the entrance was then closed. However, while the match was ongoing, the football fans outside the stadium were found along the tennis court and archery range area, peeping through the fences and some of them had even climbed up trees to get a better view of the match.
“We were worried that people may fall down. We were also afraid because of the crowd, the stadium might collapse. We were lucky nothing happened,” Dorji said. He also recalled that due to earthquakes in the past years, the stadium has been weakened with cracks and some parts are sunken in. He said although some repair works were carried out, however, the stadium is in need of renovation.
He said the sheer number of crowd was drawn in due to free entrance to the stadium for the match. He said there will be ticketing done in the next World Cup qualifier match to control the seating capacity in the stadium.
“Once the capacity of the stadium is full, no more tickets would be issued and stadium has to be closed,” he said.
“The crowd was fantastic,” the Bhutan Football Federation’s President, Ugen Tshechup Dorji, said.
“From BFF, we have to apologize the fans that were not able to get into the stadium because we have no choice. Because the stadium had reached the capacity and it would have been dangerous to allow the more fans to come into the stadium,” he added.
Speaking on the dangers of overcrowding in the stadium, the BFF President said, “It could have created a stampede and people could have gotten hurt. No choice but to not allow people to come in.”
Among the many worries, the Team Manager of the National Football Team and Vice President, BFF, Hishey Tshering, said because of the tremendous public support, they were concerned that the Bhutanese national players, in their zeal and zest of playing in front of such an electric crowd, could lose their balance and shape of the team.
The Media Officer, BFF said the ticketing would be a better option to control the number of spectators to suit the FIFA regulation. He said thousands of students in Thimphu also showed up to witness the match.