Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
Dubbed the ‘mother of all sports’, athletics in Bhutan has come a long way since its introduction in the mid 1980s.
Then, different events were played without concrete regulations.
Given the lack of trained and qualified personals and with no infrastructure, athletics was played more or less at the same scale and level as it was when initially constituted.
However, athletes today have access to various high standard training and coaching supported by a strategic plan.
But despite the growth, Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation (BAAF) is yet to make its mark among the rest of the 14 federations in the country.
This could have been achieved during the recent South Asian Games (SAG) in Nepal. However, the three athletes could not win any medals during the competition.
BAAF’s general secretary, Dorji Tenzin, said however the three athletes have made ‘impressive’ individual progress.
“When it comes to athletics development, we have done so much as a federation,” he said. “But when it comes to athletes’ performance, we still have a lot to do.”
One of the reasons why Bhutanese athletes have not performed well in international competitions, he said is because of lack of adequate quality training.
“Majority of our athletes are in school. There is a pressure on them to excel academically and at the same time perform well in sports.”
Referring to the athletes’ performance at the 2019 SAG, Dorji Tenzin said that the gold medalist in the men’s 5,000m race had a 10-year experience in middle-long distance running.
Bhutanese athlete Gawa Zangpo who stood 7th from nine runners had trained only for a year.
Challenges in terms of adequate and quality training, qualified coaches, facilities and budget remain for Bhutanese athletes, he said.
“However, if we can retain these athletes for a longer time, they can bring results in the next five years in the regional competitions and in the next 10 years, we can even perform and get results in international competitions.”
He said that beginning from nothing and given the limiting factors, athletics programme has reached new heights. Athletics programmes at different levels – kids, youth and elite have been rolled out in all dzongkhags.
“We still have a long way to go, and we are currently on the right track,” he said. “Along with athletes, coaches and sports instructors across the country are also being trained.”
In line with the developmental activities, BAAF is currently holding a two-day annual congress meeting in Gelephu.
On the first day on December 24, Tsewang Rinzing and Dr Tenzin Norsang Norbhu were re-elected as the president and vice president of the federation after a unanimous decision of all the representatives from 15 dzongkhag sports association (DSA).
Four new council members – Trashigang, Haa, Bumthang and Tsirang were also selected using a ballot. “This is a new system wherein we elect the council members through a democratic process,” said Dorji Tenzin.
A new strategic plan for the federation with an objective of inclusive athletics was also proposed, which requires representation from all the 20 dzongkhags.
Dorji Tenzin said that in order to integrate the differently-abled athletes, focus would also be made on para-athletes. In the coming years, he said that para-athletic competitions would be conducted along with regular competition to remove social stigma.