Sports may be gaining popularity in the country but not sportsmanship.

Recent reports of abuse and aggression towards the basketball and football referees are worrying developments for an industry that is still in its infancy. A society encourages sports because it provides a positive outlet to those playing. However, in our case, it appears to reinforce aggression, which in the garb of competitiveness, is tolerated.

But when our referees start fearing for life or are willing to give up on their profession, we have a problem. When players are in the pitch or courts under the influence of prohibited substances, hurling abuses to over-worked, under-appreciated and underpaid referees, we have an urgent problem that needs immediate attention.

For this unruly behaviour in a way reflects the society. The intoxication, the abuse, the aggression and the lack of values that is displayed in the pitch and courts shows that it is not sports but these are acts that provide the cathartic benefits. And instead of addressing these issues, we see attempts being made to conceal such foul play, be it on the part of the players or the referees.

Last month, a video of a referee allegedly changing the time on the timer for a basketball match was posted on social media. Rumours are rife that the spectator who posted the clip was intimidated to remove it immediately. It was and the issue got snubbed. Based on what the referees claim, this may have been an innocent mistake or may be it wasn’t. But the way it was handled was unprofessional. Instead of being accountable, we see authorities being defensive and players, offensive.

This lack of accountability and bureaucracy that inhibits our system is also apparent in the football pitch. The Bhutan Football Federation is yet to take a decision on the petition that Drukpol Football Club submitted after it was suspended more than a month ago. It may not be an urgent issue to the federation but for the team, a lot is at stake, one being that they represent the law enforcement agency. Sitting on a petition doesn’t help anyone, let alone settle disputes.

Such observations are however not to undermine the efforts that are made to popularise sports popular in the country. As an event driven sector, it has managed to organise coaching camps and tournaments that enjoy a certain level of loyalty and enthusiasm. These are important processes for mass sports form the basis of professional sport and even if we err, we must amend and learn that sports is as much of the body as it of the mind.

It is time that our policy makers give priority to the overall development of sports and not only show up to give away prizes. Since it involves a large number of youth and young adults, the potential of this sector to inculcate values and tap talents is immense. Our education system must recognise and encourage students who excel in sports as it does for those who do well academically.

Sport is an important social phenomenon. It reflects the way we develop as a society, and becomes imperative that we understand the rationale for promoting sports. It must be more than keeping the youth engaged. The process of sportsmanship begins by understanding that being competitive does not mean being aggressive.