17th March 2015, was a historic day not only for the obvious sporting achievement but in the way it fired up and united the nation behind its national football team.
One had to be there at the Changlimithang stadium to believe the incredible crowd support which would include the first ever ‘Mexican waves’ in Bhutan and unprecedented enthusiastic cheering especially by Thimphu’s youth and school children. Many more watched excitedly on TV screens across the country.
However, what pushed the stakes up higher was that it was also an international event. Bhutan for quite some time has been in the ridicule section of international football.
Therefore, Bhutan’s historic 1-0 win against Sri Lanka a team ranked 35 places above Bhutan generated tremendous international interest with this paper counting more than a hundred international news articles on the topic. This became a sports David and Goliath story of sorts.
Bhutan’s 2-1 home win in Changlimithang which again attracted considerable international media attention showed that it was not a coincidence.
Bhutan, in the last few days, would have experienced why sports is so important in not only promoting good spirits and healthy living but also in bringing together a nation.
For 90 minutes, the nation was not divided into political camps, it was not divided into regions, and it forgot many of its problems and differences to come together to support the national team.
Bhutan’s victory and the national reaction should be a big boost in supporting the professional development of football and other sports in the country.
Two of the main reasons that football is now doing well is first infrastructure development and secondly exposure. This should be replicated in other sports also. The next step should be the government, corporations and private stepping in a big way to financially promote and support sports so that it can become a fulltime profession for our professionals.
It was heartening to see the youth of Bhutan cheering enthusiastically. It was good to see the confidence that the match inspired in them and the spark that it ignited in them. Given our large youth population the development of sports in Bhutan should become a priority.
Bhutanese have the natural capability and talent in sports. In fact for entire decades it was Bhutanese students studying in the elite hill schools of India that dominated the sports fields. It is time to unleash that potential to bring more glory, unity and sportsmanship to Bhutan.
“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.”
Mary Lou Retton