Along with football, another game that prevails across Bhutanese streets is badminton. As much as the game is meant to be played indoors, Bhutanese enjoy playing it out in the open.
But despite its popularity, badminton has failed to become a dominant sport in the country. For many, hitting the shuttlecock with a racquet might seem like an easy task but the game has more to it than meets the eye.
The way an individual holds a racquet can indicate if the person is a trained player or not. The game requires a lot of control, strength – physical and mental – and measured movement.
Although the origin of the game in the country is unclear, badminton in Bhutan started gaining popularity when the first badminton association was formed in 1993. Three years later, the association got affiliated with the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC) and became a full-fledged federation in 1996.
Bhutan Badminton Federation’s (BBF) general secretary, Kinley Tshering, said that the lack of proper guidance on the basic skills and technical knowhow restricted the growth of the sport. “Everyone knows how to play badminton. But they lack the correct strokes that can improve their performance,” he said.
In order to improve the quality of the sport, BBF with support from the World Badminton Federation has started a grassroots development programme in the country. The Shuttle Time Programme is a globally adopted strategy to develop the skills among children.
So far the federation has trained some 150 School Sports Instructors (SSIs) and teachers to train students in their respective schools. BFT also organises regular open and national championships to gauge the performance of the players.
“Play-wise we have some of the most talented players in the region but the lack of international exposure and nervousness gets the better of the players,” said Kinley Tshering.
Another challenge the federation is currently facing is the lack of indoor courts to groom players for competitions. Although each school in the country has a badminton court, these courts are not accessible to the public and for that matter not even to the federation.
BBF currently has only one court at its disposal to train the players. Located at the Youth Development Fund’s indoor court in Thimphu, the court allows limited space and is occupied most of the time. “Without adequate practising courts, we cannot train our national players for tournaments outside the country,” said Kinley Tshering.
Realising the issue, BOC has initiated the construction of multipurpose halls (MPH) in six major dzongkhags. The MPHs will provide space for basketball, volleyball, table tennis and badminton courts. One such hall has been completed in Trashigang and the remaining five are expected to be completed by next year.
Meanwhile, a group of veteran players are engaged in a regular game of badminton at the YDF hall. The group consists of former national players and young badminton enthusiasts. Currently Thimphu has around 50 members registered with the federation.