Thinley Namgay   

Five Bhutanese referees have secured a place in an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) referee elite panel category so far.

Of the five, three male referees made it to the list last month. Tshering Choden and Choki Om were selected in 2017.

Grabbing the spot at the AFC elite panel will ensure a better opportunity for them in the AFC champion league, AFC Cup, AFC Asian Cup and world cup qualifier matches. They will get a chance in the highest league at the national level, such as Bhutan Premier League.

According to referees, to be a part of the AFC elite panel is a tedious journey. They said one must be on the list of the top national referee,  need to either attend the AFC Refereeing Academy or apply for non-elite admission.

One has to maintain discipline during rigorous training schedules and watch numerous key incident analysis of games. English speaking and writing are other critical criteria they mentioned.

A 28-year-old referee, Virendha Rai, from Samtse, said he became an AFC elite referee after a decade in the career.

“Being the first AFC elite male referee from the country makes me happy and overwhelmed to embark on this new journey with sheer dedication, hard work and discipline,” Virendha said.

He said that referees have scope internationally, provided one did not compromise hard work. “Refereeing offers opportunities for those who are willing to be optimistic towards their goal and be disciplined in life.”

According to Virendha, courses at AFC Refereeing Academy are challenging. “You need to maintain fitness throughout the year. It was tough  for me because  I had to do lots of technical, fitness and psychology tests during the entire tenure of the academy.”

He also said that someone representing from Bhutan on the AFC elite panel would inspire youth to pursue refereeing.

One of the longest-serving referees in the country, Phurpa Wangchuk, became a FIFA referee in 2012.  He said one of the crucial qualities of the referee is managing the players and understanding the game situation.

Besides professional development, referee Tshering Choden from Zhemgang said that being an AFC elite referee would broaden the understanding of other cultures and traditions owing to more international appearances.

However, there are challenges for referees today.

Virendha Rai said the spectators, players, and coaching staff often stick with the game’s old rules, which causes confusion and heated debate during games. “The only solution for such confusions is to update on the laws of the game annually.”

Tshering Choden said she had a hard time coping in the past due to gender and physical disparities in the male-dominated career.

“Unlike foreign countries, Bhutan doesn’t have a salary system for referees. So, we have to depend on matches. If there are no tournaments, it directly affects our life,” she said.