…as Covid-19 affects sporting events

Thinley Namgay

The new coronavirus has not only cancelled football tournaments, but its impact is eating into the sustainability of local football clubs.

With local and regional tournaments put on hold, football clubs are finding it difficult to pay footballers, especially who are totally dependent on the sports for a living.

Of the 13 registered football clubs under the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), Thimphu City FC, Paro FC, Transport United FC and High Quality United FC were the worst affected.

This is because club owners had been sustaining the club on income generated through tourism related business and prize money of the tournaments.

Thimphu City FC’s owner, Hishey Tshering said that more than football, they are worried about the footballers. Hishey Tshering is a tour operator and owns hotel. “My priority at present is to ensure that I pay salary to my tourism and hotel staff. Due to my passion, I invest in football from the extra income I get. With tourism dead, it is difficult to pay salary for footballers and other staff,” said Hishey Tshering.

There are 23 players, two managers and a coach with Thimphu City FC. The salary for the players ranges from Nu 8,000 to 10,000 a month. Salary for team director and coach is Nu 22,000 and 50,000 respectively.

“Among 23 players, only two have regular job. From this month, we can’t pay salary. We have decided to pay the rent and provide ration to those who live in the club house. If the tournaments continue in the future, club will compensate some amount,” said Hishey Tshering.

Transport United FC’s board member, Yeshey Samdrup, said that until last month, they have been giving salary for the 12 players who are dependent on football. “From this month, we won’t be able to pay their salary. We are dependent purely on the prize money and if the tournaments are to be withheld, it is definite that the club would be closed.”

As of now, there are no foreign players in the clubs.

Clubs are even suggesting continuing with the local tournaments behind closed doors.

Paro FC’s board member, Chencho Norbu said that from the nine board members, seven are doing tourism related business.

“We own a football ground, but it is closed. There are 22 players and only two players have regular job. At the moment, we can’t afford to pay,” said Chencho Norbu.

Since some players have no place to live, Thimphu City FC and Transport United FC have rented an apartment.

Thimphu City FC pays a monthly rent of Nu 17,000 to accommodate eight players. Transport United FC pays a rent of Nu 20,000 for the nine players.

Clubs representatives said that in other countries, rich people own the football club, but in Bhutan, middle class people own clubs. “We don’t get anything in return. It is simply driven by our passion for football.”

National players are not affected as they earn Nu 30,000 a month with support from the BFF and the Druk Holding and Investment Limited.

According to BFF officials, almost 200 people were employed by the 13 registered football clubs under the BFF at present. “Discontinuing the clubs would increase the unemployment rate,” said an official.

BFF to the rescue

To help the clubs amid the Covid-19 crisis, BFF has given Nu 200,000 each to six clubs- Thimphu City FC, Paro FC, Transport United FC, Paro United FC, High Quality United FC and Druk Stars FC yesterday.

BFF’s General Secretary, Ugyen Wangchhuk, said that the AFC has stopped some fund for BFF that the federation used to support the clubs. “AFC themselves is facing difficulty. We understand the problems of the clubs, but it is global problem,” he said. “We have excess funds at present but it is all activity tied funds and we cannot use it directly. We have to get approval from FIFA and AFC.”

Meanwhile, big football leagues around the world like the La Liga, English Premier League, Bundesliga and Serie A players have agreed to the pay cut. Barcelona and Athletico Madrid players have agreed to take a 70 percent pay cut in salary to help employees during coronavirus. It cannot be replicated in the country because of already meager salary of footballers.

To contain the spread of Covid-19, the government has announced the prohibition of all the sports that involve physical contact since March 27.