Chimi Dema | Tsirang

The artificial turf football ground in Tsirang has become busy soon after the government lifted the restrictions on sporting events.

Without much entertainment centres and youth not having to attend school, football has become the favourite pastime. Uttam Basnet, 50, a veteran footballer and also a resident of Damphu rejoice playing with his team yet again after a three-month long break. Worried about suffering from non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension, he said he plays football twice a week to stay fit.

“It is also due to the age-old passion we have for the game that we play regularly,” he said.

“During past months when the ground remained closed, we resorted to alternative physical exercise like jogging in the morning. But we stayed at home most of the time,” he said.

His team has players aged between 30 and 60.

Adhering to the Covid-19 precautionary measures, Uttam Basnet said players go home immediately after the game. “Our names and identity card numbers are also registered before entering the ground.”

Today, different teams comprising youth, civil servants, local leaders and also veteran football enthusiasts in and around Damphu organise friendly matches almost every evening.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ground was closed on March 8.

Since the re-opening of the artificial turf towards last week of June, about 14 matches have been played so far.

The artificial turf, besides keeping football enthusiasts engaged and fit, is also helping Tsirang Sports Association (TSA) make revenue.

Since the association took ownership from Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) in February,  about 25 matches including five tournaments were played until the first week of March.

The turf generated revenue of about Nu 50,000.

The association today charges Nu 2,000 for a match during the day and Nu 3,000 for night games. An extra fee, Nu 200 is charged for a referee.

The General Secretary with TSA, Lobzang Tshering said that the revenue will be used for replacing the turf in the future. The association pays an electricity bill of about Nu 6,000 a month and manages other maintenance and equipment costs from the revenue.

Opened by BFF in 2016, the artificial turf was constructed at a cost of Nu 50 million with financial support from FIFA. The infrastructure was opened to provide better facilities for Bhutanese football enthusiasts outside Thimphu.