Tennis got its first Bronze in the South Asian Games

As the ‘Dragon Boys’ took the limelight with the first silver medal in Bhutanese football history during the 13th South Asian Games (SAG) in Nepal, the national tennis team too acquired a ‘first’ bronze medal in 30 years in team competition in Kathmandu.

Tennis players Tandin Wangchuk, Nidup Gyeltshen and Pema Norbu were accompanied by the Secretary General, Bhutan Tennis Federation (BTF), Tshering Namgay.

BTF has been busy with setting up its new wing, National Tennis Centre (NTC), and is on the verge of seeking international quality accreditation from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to qualify for either of the 3 ranking categories; Bronze, Silver or Gold. It will enable BTF to be a fully recognised member for ITF. Currently, BTF is a ‘Member-C’ level and is hoping to qualify for ‘Member-B’ level that would have additional benefits along with voting rights.

According to the Coach Yonten Gyeltshen and Nidup Gyeltshen, the proceedings to qualify for membership upgradation will require certain number of players, tennis courts and validating processes to be fulfilled.

Recently the President of the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC), His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck extended support towards tennis by stating that the committee is looking for a space to atleast have four more tennis courts, and further enhance the support system from BOC.

Coach Nidup Gyeltshen said, “It may take some time, as we are looking forward to court renovations, lightings for the 3rd and the 4th tennis courts as well. For that the ITF has made a grant of 25,000 USD and also there is additional support from BOC.”

NTC is modelled to reach out to the youth from around the country whilst providing resources, expertise coaching and training facilities without any fees. It will also guide the better players to reach higher standards and facilitate them to participate in tournaments and team competitions.

Coach Yonten and Nidup said, “There are a lot of tournaments for the youth, for instance we have the under-12 category, under-14, Gyalsey Cup, India-Bhutan tournament with additional youth camps throughout the year. Quarterly 8 tournaments are being conducted so far, that aside, we have international tournaments like the SAG where we recently made a mark, then for U-14 there are tournaments in Europe, Australia and coaching camp in Thailand conducted by the ITF provided their skills to deem them eligible.”

As part of the discussion, ITF International Expert from Uzbekistan, Igor Shelyakin, added, “This initiation will cater to the country’s overall quality development for players and the sport, alike, as not many countries in the world have their own National Training Centre.”

Igor Shelyakin is currently in Bhutan to assess and monitor the quality standards of NTC for the accreditation process as per the criterion developed by the ITF.

The BTF and NTC is currently being assessed with the criterion consisting of general maintenance, schedule of activities followed by NTC, facility and equipment in place, management of NTC, coaching team, sports-science and sports medicine all compromising of more than 30 or so questionnaires.

Tshering Namgay said, “We’ve been organizing winter and summer camps during school breaks since long, and basically, it is for the youth to indulge in a healthy and fruitful engagement during such times. Another prospect out of this is, since most students are free, there is a better turnout for talent identification for the federation. The sole purpose for such events and camps is to identify such talents and retain them for the squads to represent the federation and the country given their potential.”

Currently, the regular children who are in squads go through 2 to 3 training sessions each week and held before and after school.

“The federation’s prior focus is on grass root level and then there is the national squad selection, among which are the 3-bronze medalists who participated in the South Asian Games in Nepal, from 1st to 10th December. Unfortunately, the federation has not been able to retain female players as they do not seem to find the time for training and other events,” he added.

Tshering Namgay said that despite the long tenure of camps and events being held by the federation, they somehow seem to have lesser number of players retention as a majority of the players do not pursue the sport after the camps are over.

He said, “This could be mainly because of the academic system for the youth to focus upon during their tender years, and also contributing to the fact that the players’ pathways are unclear to follow it as a profession so far. Despite the lapse in time, some players do come years after completing their studies and continue to play.”

When asked about Bhutan’s chances to participate in major grand slam events, coach Yonten replied that the federation is yet to reach such heights. “First, we have to qualify for Member-B level center, only then there will be acceptance for our players to participate in the qualifying rounds and above, like the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).”

Further on, coach Nidup added, “It’s not like we are going to settle for anything less, if we get the chance we will do our best to make it as far as possible. For now, our priority is at the grassroot level, there is a lot of ground to be covered. Currently, we have 2 girls and 2 boys in prospect for the Division 2 championship in the Philippines which is held yearly, who will be accompanied by coach Kinley.”

“For now, there are tournaments going on in Thimphu and Phuentsholing simultaneously which started from 23 December and will last for about two weeks, following which there will be tournaments in Wangdi from 13 till 22 January, then in Tsirang and Gelephu from 22 till 30 January and in Samtse,” the coaches added.

“The journey for the technical staff has been fun, it is a bit challenging to train the youth of today as compared to those back in time, however, they also grasp very quickly,” added the senior coach Yonten.

Confirming with coach Nidup, they agreed that they had to alter the training methodologies in order to grow with the times.

At present, there are 5 level-1 certified coaches with BTF, certified by ITF, and coach Yonten is reportedly awaiting his results for the level-2 certification.

Level-1 coaches train beginners/intermediate players, while level-2 focus on intermediate/advanced players and level-3 are coaches for professional players.

Tennis was introduced in Bhutan during the 1970s, and it was initially regarded as a sport for only those who could afford it, and was not considered as everyone’s game to enjoy. Back then, it hadn’t received much recognition due to the lack of facilities and the cost bearings.

There were fewer to no tournaments for students and ladies previously, and thus the sport slacked on that regard.

BTF was constituted in 1983 and supports the development of the sport in the country ever since. BTF is supported and funded by BOC under the Royal Government of Bhutan.

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