The Trail Blazing Bhutanese Women in Sports

Bhutan’s fledgling sports scene has slowly been developing in recent times and one of those developments is the increase in the number of women’s sports competitions being held. The Women’s football team recently played friendlies against Sri Lanka on home soil and the Women’s cricket competition also recently came to a close. The following are the women who have played sports at various levels and still continue to do so.

Sonam Dema is an archer who has represented Bhutan and still continues to do so with her taking part in the Asian Olympic Qualifiers and the SAARC games. Sonam got her start in sports when her uncle brought her over to Thimphu and enrolled her in an archery coaching camp when she was in the 6th grade. After spending her vacations in these coaching camps, she was selected to represent Bhutan. Initially, when she started, she felt that men’s sports were promoted more than women’s but now, Sonam believes that men and women are both given an equal chance when it comes to playing sports. “When I went into the coaching camps, there was no different training schedule for boys or girls. We were both trained equally,” said Sonam.

Sonam believes that all budding sportspersons need to work hard and develop their talents. “People are easily discouraged when they don’t get opportunities and I believe that if you work hard enough and develop yourself, you will always get an opportunity” said Sonam. Sonam also encourages parents to allow their children to follow their interests in sports without restricting them. “We believe that we cannot make a living from sports and we discourage people who try to excel in them, but if we support youngsters who want to get into sports, I have no doubt they’ll do well in their fields” she added.

Sangay Wangmo is a sprinter who has represented Bhutan at various competitions. She also plays basketball and football at the club level. Sangay believes that women’s sports have gained numerous developments over the year but she still believes that men’s sports still has more support than that of women. “Men’s sports are more watched by the public and they get recognized a lot easier by the people,” said Sangay.  She also believes that young girls are easily discouraged from taking part in sports but believes they should follow their interests regardless of their obstacles. Sangay is currently a student at Royal Thimphu College and says that sports ais a backup career for her. “In my field (sports), its not easy to make a living from what I do, so sports is definitely a backup plan” she added.

Pema Yangzom is a goalkeeper who currently plays for Thimphu City Ladies. She has also represented Bhutan from 2010-13 at various age levels and due to personal reasons left the national setup in 2014.

After a two-year hiatus, she continued her playing career from 2016 at club level. Pema echoes what Sonam Dema had said. “In football, in the past you only had boys hostels in academies but now they also have girls hostels which encourages girls to play” said Pema. While she believes that both men and women are given an equal opportunity in sports, she still feels that men’s sports attracts a bigger crowd. “If you saw the recent games for the men’s and women’s football teams, you could see the size difference between the crowds.

The women’s team had a good number of people coming to support them but it pales in comparison with the crowd and interest that the men drew” she said. Pema continued to say that there are certain cases where she sees families restricting their daughters from playing sports. “I recently had a teammate who was pulled from the team after one game because her family didn’t want her to play” she added.

Sonam Palden is the current wicketkeeper- batter of Bhutan Women’s cricket team. She has also taken part in numerous other sports like football and basketball at club levels.

Her deep love for cricket made her start playing the sport but she also retained an interest in playing other sports. She is currently fully dedicated to cricket and she says that it is the sport she loves the most and that is why she continues to play it to this day.

Sonam said, “There is no such thing as a sport for men and women. In Bhutan, the different federations give an equal opportunity to men and women to represent their country in any field of sports”. She believes that the federations set up numerous camps which give exposure to both men and women equally. Sonam says that women who play sports have a higher level of confidence but the country does not have a motivating factor or proper encouragement for women to take up sports. “There are many lots of opportunities, but women lack the courage to embrace these opportunities. So, we need to encourage and inspire young girls to take up sports and that would greatly benefit the development of spots in Bhutan” she added.

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