Taking part in competitive international and regional competitions without any insurance policy covering accidents and injuries sustained during tournaments is a concern to national athletes.
At least 500 athletes take part in international and regional competitions. This year more than 300 athletes took part in the world and Asian level competitions excluding the international matches played by the national football team.
Sangay Wangchuk, 19, is a national Taekwondo player. He represented the country in the 5th Asian Indoor Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in September and said that tournaments become competitive annually. “The sport we play involve risks of injury as it is a contact game. We need to have a policy that covers injuries during the match and in training.”
He said that the effort to work hard is limited owing to the risk of getting injured. “If our injury risk is covered by insurance, it would encourage and motivate us to work harder. We would perform better. It would also encourage future athletes.”
According to him, there were incidents in the past where an athlete had to bear his own expenses for injuries suffered in the match. “When such supports are limited, we feel insecure and become less confident in the match.”
The need to have an insurance policy for athletes was first raised during the first annual meeting of the National Athlete Commission of Bhutan (ACB) last year. The proposal to have athletes insurance was discussed with stakeholders at the second general meeting of ACB on December 5 in Thimphu.
ACB’s Chairman, Sonam Thinley said that the concept of sports insurance is new. “We are confident that the organisation that we have consulted is receptive to the idea. They are willing to support the athletes,” he said. “If the proposal to have sports insurance for athletes succeeds, it would cover physical injuries sustained in the match and training of national athletes.”
He said there were incidents where athletes sustained serious injuries but there was no support. “They won’t be able to train and compete confidently in such situations. This limits the participation of athletes. We need to support them to perform better.”
ACB is in consultation with Bhutan Insurance Limited and Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited on the insurance policy and post-retirement benefits for national athletes.
Bhutan Insurance Ltd’s assistant general manager, Dawa Choden said that athletes should be encouraged and secured while taking part in tournaments. “Some of them are interested and we can support them through corporate social responsibility.”
She said that there are several armed force personnel who are national athletes but aren’t insured. “The initiative is new and we need to develop a new policy that suits the need. We will try to make it possible but it would be difficult to give them full coverage from the start.”
Bhutan Taekwondo Federation’s coach Dorji Gyeltshen, said, that there has been no incident of serious injuries sustained by athletes. “We cannot be complacent as we have more number of athletes taking part in international competitions yearly.”
Sonam Thinley said that the mandate of ACB is different from international athletes’ commission. He said there are no retirement benefits for athletes and they are not paid proper stipend and apparels. “We need to provide them with uniforms, retirement benefits and proper stipends; without these benefits there is nothing we can do to encourage them.”
ACB was founded in 2015 to see the welfare of athletes and to ensure the voice of athletes reach the concerned authority. It considers athletes as the heart of sports. “We need to enable changes in the national sports federations and provide adequate support for better performance,” the chairman said.