Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

It rained goals at the opening day of the High Quality National Women’s Championship in Gelephu on December 21.

There were 42 goals scored in two games.

The first match between Sarpang and Paro dzongkhags saw the former thrash the team from Paro, 19-0 at full-time. In the second game, Thimphu (Sunrise FC) hammered Mongar with 23 goals.

While the difference in the level of skills and performance were evident from the score line, officials from Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) said that women football in general has grown exponentially over the years in the country.

From running after the ball in clusters, confused and unorganised a few years ago, today players are seen tactically more composed and technically sound.

“We see more organised gameplay from the women team now,” said BFF competition officer, Kinley Dorji. “Despite the huge goal difference, we can still see them play as a team. We can see the will to fight until the end.”

The only difference between the teams currently is the exposure and game-time players receive, he said. “That is why we conduct this kind of competitions on a regular basis to provide teams and players with more game-time and exposure.”

Focus on women football started six years ago with the introduction of the grassroots programme in 12 pilot dzongkhags. Today 19 dzongkhags have the grassroots programme running annually.

BFF’s head of women department, Birendra Chimoria, said women’s football is progressing. “This has been made possible because of the equal priority that the federation gives to both men and women football.”

He said that the number of leagues and competitions are same for both men and women. “Media coverage and promotion are equal for men and women, which is why we are seeing more parents sending their daughters forward to join the grassroots programme.”

While the quality of women football has improved over the last four years, Birendra Chimoria said that lack of career opportunities hold back many from pursuing the sport further.

“There are club for men in the country where they pay Nu 30,000 to Nu 40,000 for players. This has not yet happened for women players,” he said. “There are a few women clubs who’ve recently started to pay but we have not reached the level of men’s club so far.”

Women’s football came to the limelight during the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) under-18 championship in Thimphu last year, where the national women’s team recorded their first significant and biggest win against the Maldives in a 13-0 thriller.

Earlier that month the U-15 girls also thrashed Sri Lanka 6-0 in the U-15 championship.

Meanwhile, this is the first national competition for women that is being held outside Thimphu.

Kinley Dorji said that qualifying rounds were held in 10 dzongkhags over the year to get into the national competition. “The champions of respective dzongkhags are here to compete for the national title.”

This is also the first time that BFF conducted qualifiers in 10 pilot dzongkhags based on the availability of facilities.