Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) will implement new pyramid of Bhutanese football league starting this year to provide the players from all levels equal chance to play in any premier competitions at home.
The absence of a proper competitions tier, the federation claimed, had caused adverse impact on the quality, growth, and sustainability of the clubs.
The initiative is also aimed to enable the formation of football clubs in the dzongkhags.
Bhutan Premier League (BPL) that will play 10 teams from across the country now replaces national League.
Considered the first division football competition in the country, the champions of BPL will win the highest cash prize of Nu 2 million and also a slot to play AFC qualifiers.
Thimphu league, which only played the clubs from Thimphu and featured the highest number of clubs until last year is replaced by Bhutan Super League (BSL), which will now play 10 teams from across the country.
The new structure provides the clubs from outside the Thimphu play the super league. The league provides another competition tier for the clubs from Thimphu and outside the capital to compete after BPL.
For example, Phuentsholing United last year got direct entry to play the first division league after playing two-legged play-offs in Chukha. This compromised the quality and growth of league in the country according to the federation.
BSL this year will play only five clubs from Thimphu; winners and runners-up of the B-division league – FC Terton and BFF Academy FC, Druk United FC, Druk United FC, and High-Quality United that finished above the relegation zone in Thimphu league 2018.
The current league structure also avoids restrictions of the dzongkhag having more than one team representing in BPL and BSL, according to the federation.
The two relegated teams from Thimphu league 2018, Phuensum FC and Tensung FC will now play Thimphu Dzongkhag league and compete with the football clubs from Thimphu to win two slots to play BSL.
The current pyramid format ensures good dzongkhag teams an opportunity to participate in the proper league and prove their worth to participate in the Premiere league, according to BFF.
Competition officer with BFF, Kinley Dorji, said that the current format of the competition was aimed at enhancing the growth of clubs from the dzongkhag level and to allow only the best teams to proceed to the best level of competition.
“The structure of league provides a process of promotion and relegation. Depending on the tier’s regulation and the performances of the participating clubs, teams performing best move up a level (promotion) and the team performing worst moves down a level (relegation),” he said.
BPL will be played in the home and away format while all matches of BSL will be played in Thimphu. The dzongkhag league in respective dzongkhags. The federation expects to conduct DL in Phuentsholing, Paro, and Punakha this year.
Equal opportunity to all
Kinley Dorji said that in the past same set of players had been playing both Thimphu and national league, which did not create space for the new and potential players.
While the new format of the league is expected to engage close to 1,300 players, it also restricts the players registered with the clubs playing in the highest competition from playing the lower leagues except for three players, as per the regulation.
This is to create enabling conditions for players to gain more playing time, avoid financial complications, prevent collusion between teams and avoid teams from BPL representing BSL, according to BFF.
The BPL clubs (Transport United, Paro FC, Thimphu City FC, Ugyen Academy FC, and Thimphu FC) can register 25 players.
BSL clubs – Phuentsholing United, Tertons FC, BFF Academy, Druk United FC, Druk Stars FC, Paro United FC, Phuentsholing City, and High-Quality United can register 23 players.
The club owners present during the consultation raised the need to strengthen domestic player transfers approaches and also to follow the existing player transfers system at the time of domestic competitions.
Unfair allocation of prize and subsidy
While the champion of premiere league wins Nu 2 million, the winner of super league, which is the second division league in the country, will bag only Nu 200,000 according to the new league format.
The club owners of the second and third division leagues said that there was a huge difference in prize money and the club subsidy given to first, second, and third division teams.
Ugyen Tshering from Motithang FC, third division team, said that the distribution of budget was not fair.
“We are to get only Nu 50,000 for the dzongkhag league and if we get promoted to super league, we will only be given Nu 100,000 as club grant. On other hand, the teams from BPL will get Nu 200,000 and Nu 100,000 when relegated to super league,” he said.
Kinley Dorji said that the new structure enabled only the best club to play the best level of competition and be worthy of supports as per the level of competition. “The clubs need to have a target to work on.”
The first division league is estimated cost more than Nu 7 million in one season while the second division league, BSL is estimated to cost 2.6 million.
There was no budget estimate mentioned for the dzongkhag league, which is expected to host the highest number of teams.
The club owners also raised the need to focus on encouraging the dzongkhags from the east and south to come up with teams to play dzongkhag leagues to avoid the sport being centered to the western region.