Thinley Namgay

Business is picking up for the private artificial turf operators since the government lifted the restrictions on sports, operators say.

All sports activities were stopped after the first Covid-19 case was detected in March. The government lifted the restrictions on June 27 and allowed them to open until 9pm.

Currently, futsal enthusiasts crowd at the grounds in the capital day and night.

The turfs are booked for a maximum of eight matches a day, a match lasts for an hour, usually occupied between 6pm and 9pm.

The grounds stay occupied between 40 and 50 hours a week. The ground charges range between Nu 600 and Nu 2,000.

Tenzin Sports Complex in Serbithang has a football ground and a futsal ground. The football ground’s fee is Nu 4,000 during weekdays and Nu 5,000 during the weekend. But the futsal ground charge is Nu 1,000.

Coordinator Rinchen Khandu said that before the pandemic, the bigger pitch used to be packed until midnight, especially on weekends. However, Rinchen Khandu said that profit from the futsal ground is negligible.

“It’s competitive now due to other futsal grounds.”

One of the Kaydee futsal’s proprietors, Tashi Wangchuk, said that the sports reopening had helped a lot.

“It is good that the government let the sports resume that would somehow address the loss incurred during the past three months.”

Most of the grounds have students and civil servants as their regular clients. However, Manager of Thimphu sports square, Santosh Darlami said that more bolero drivers and workshop employees play on his ground.

Most operators paid their employees a reduced salary in the three months the ground remained closed due to Covid-19. The regular employees’ salary range between Nu 10,000 and Nu 15,000. The employees were paid Nu 8,000 amid ground closure. Some employees with a few operators quit and left for their villages.

Thimphu Sports Square’s proprietor Suk Bahadur said that from June he had reduced the salary by 40 percent after the employees received Nu 12,000 from the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu.

Before Covid-19, the operators had been busy until midnight, but with the closure of ground at 9pm, owners are losing income generated from three hours daily. Operators are hoping they would be allowed to operate until midnight with the strict measures in place.

As per the government’s directives, grounds have installed handwashing taps, hand sanitisers, and Druk Trace app.

Given the fierce competition, grounds owners market their ground and boast of proper toilets, bathroom, and dressing rooms to attract clients. Manager of Thimphu sports square, Santosh Darlami said that the steam and sauna bath facilities to be placed in if the situation becomes better.