Thinley Namgay

In what can only be described as a major setback to Bhutan’s  football progression, the nation has bid farewell to approximately 50 footballers from the national team and local football clubs in recent years.

These footballers have made their way overseas, with Australia being a popular destination. According to club officials, many more are contemplating following suit.

Football has witnessed a surge in popularity in recent years, with improvements in both the quality of play and infrastructure. However, the exodus of talented footballers after they have been trained poses a significant loss for the country and creates a challenge in finding suitable replacements.

The number of football clubs has also grown over time. However, the hard work put in by club owners, coaches, and dedicated players is on the brink of collapse due to the prevailing trend of emigration.

From the 2023 national squad, Kinga Rabgay and Orgyen Wangchuk from Thimphu City FC, as well as Chimi Dorji from Paro FC, have stepped away from football.

The president of Thimphu City FC expressed concern not only for his club but also for the situation in the country as a whole. “More than the Bhutan Premier League (BPL) and football, I am worried about what is happening in our country.”

Club owners have indicated that they may have to discontinue their clubs if the situation does not improve. Currently, apart from Paro FC and Thimphu City FC, other clubs in the country are yet to venture into better facilities and professional training.

Paro FC has lost six players between 2019 and 2023. 

Puspalal Sharma, the head coach of Paro FC, said that coaches are also departing along with the players. “Paro FC lost three coaches this year, and it will undoubtedly affect the club.”

The club has already made investments in in-house capacity development programmes, professional training, and technical training for players, and coaches. “When they resign, the investment goes in vain,” Sharma said.

The current situation is distressing as the talent pool is limited, according to Sharma. “Due to peer pressure, many players are considering leaving, but we always encourage them to stay.”

Players who have chosen to resign from football cited several reasons for their decision. 

One of the primary factors is the lack of future career prospects in the sport within the country. Additionally, low salaries offered by clubs, inadequate training facilities, and peer pressure contribute to players seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Currently, clubs pay players between Nu 10,000 and Nu 25,000 per month, which pales in comparison to salaries offered by regional clubs.

“Footballers are not insured,” said a former national player, highlighting the need for the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) to develop retention and long-term strategic plans.

BFF officials have assured that they are doing their utmost to promote football nationwide, and the loss of potential players is a cause for concern. However, addressing the current emigration trend proves to be a significant challenge.

Presently, national players receive a monthly salary of Nu 30,000, and with the support of FIFA and AFC, the BFF has made improvements to infrastructure. Training for coaches and referees is also progressing.

As the 2023 BPL Qualifier unfolds, club officials anxiously vie for spots in the upcoming 2023 BPL. 

The situation of women’s football in the country mirrors that of the men’s.