Basketball: The indoor basketball court at the Swimming Pool Complex in Thimphu used to be cramped with spectators during games a decade ago. Students used to make up the majority of the audiences in the hall.

However, today, the number has reduced drastically. Only a handful of spectators are seen at the galleries, of which, most of them comprises of relatives and friends of the players.

Popular tournaments such as the Coronation Cup and the annual A and B league also fail to draw in audience at the court like it used to do during the late 90s and early 2000s.

The decline in the observers, however, is not related to the popularity of the game, according to the officials from the Bhutan Basketball Federation (BBF).

BBF’s president, Tokey Dorji, said that the reason for the less number of people turning up for games is because the federation is controlling the number of audience at the hall because of the venerability of the structure.

“We still receive a very good number of spectators, especially during tournaments such as the Coronation Cup,” said Tokey Dorji. “But, we’re mindful of the safety of our audience since the structure at the court is not very stable currently.”

After the April 25 earthquake last year, BBF officials were cautious about using the old structure that was built in the early 1970s although no severe damage has been reported.

Officials said that with aftershocks occurring occasionally the federation could not take any risks of conducting further tournaments in the old hall. Following the incident, the federation with the help of a private company surveyed the safety of the structure.

For the first time, the Coronation Cup last year was also held at a new venue. Safety warnings were displayed at the entrance of the Swimming Pool Complex informing individuals to enter the hall at their own risk.

However, the notice did not deter the basketball enthusiasts from playing at the court. Basketball lovers were seen flocking the courts in the capital on a daily basis waiting their turn. Advance bookings are made weeks ahead.

The popularity of the game in the country is on the rise. Bhutanese basketball athletes are now taking part in the regional competitions. The country bagged its first international win at the South Asian Basketball Tournament earlier this month in Nepal.

According Bhutan Sports Baseline Survey, 2010, basketball is the second most popular sport in the country. However, officials feel that although the quality of the game have improved over the years, the support from the public to the game have not picked up the pace.

Sangay Dorji, who had come to witness the finals of the A League last week, said that public taking interest in the game has reduced over the years. “Some five years ago, students used to flock the court making it difficult fir us to get a decent seat to watch the game. Today the hall is almost empty,” he said.

Another spectator, Tandin Wangmo, said that most people preferred watching games on television rather then coming to the court. “Maybe its because they are looking for more quality games or they are just too lazy to come out,” she said. “But the charm of watching a local game live in front of us is totally at a next level.”

BBF officials also said that the reduction in the number of audience might also be because of other recreational activities available in the city.

Tokey Dorji said that the number could be more if the federation advertises the tournaments properly. “Currently because of the lack of facilities we are restricted to have only a handful of spectators at the hall,” he said.

Tokey Dorji said that the federation is in discussion with the Bhutan Olympic Committee to construct a new indoor basketball court in the city. He said that the court at the Swimming Pool Complex will be reinforced once the budget is approved and finalised.

“Once the facilities are in place, we can expect more people to come and witness the game and, hopefully, we can conduct some regional tournaments here in the country,” said Tokey Dorji.  “Basketball is a popular game in the country. The federation will do everything necessary to further promote and develop the game.”

Younten Tshedup