Beyond the historical significance of celebrating the National Day on December 17, our National Day is also seen as a momentous occasion where Bhutanese individuals, institutions or organisations are rewarded for their contributions to the country.

There were no red scarves awarded and much to the surprise of the thousands of spectators, His Majesty The King awarded the National Order of Merit (Gold) to footballer Chencho Gyelthsen and professional bodybuilder Tandin Wangchen for their distinguished achievements and contribution to sports in Bhutan.

The award has come as a huge boost to the sporting community, especially to the youth who are already believing that despite being a small country and lacking professional sporting clubs or academies, Bhutanese can compete at the regional and international level, and make the country proud.

Both Chencho Gyeltshen, the captain of our national football team and Tandin Wangchen are homegrown sportsmen – becoming professionals because of their love of the sports. Both of them became ambassadors in their fields excelling in a very competitive sporting world. Bhutanese, it is said, are built for sports and with the right coaching and training are capable of excelling. The medallists have proven that with the right attitude and support can compete at the highest level. Chencho Gyeltshen has played in several clubs in the region, often making a mark. Tandin Wangchen had won six international medals and 10 national championships.

Their recognition on the historic day is a recognition of sports and sportsmen and women in the country. It will, like Chencho Gyeltshen said, inspire youth to excel in sports. This is a powerful message to the youth, many of whom want to explore sports as a career. Sport is not as lucrative as a career. Given the lack of opportunities, parents would want their sons and daughters to be engineers and teachers instead of letting them follow their passion. With exposure, many Bhutanese children know and want to explore sports as a profession.

The change is noticeable with the Bhutan Olympic Committee paving the way and enabling Bhutanese athletes to compete, if not excel at regional and international sporting events. That the committee was recognised with the Druk Thuksey medal speaks volumes about Bhutan’s sporting journey. Within a short span of having a proper sporting body, our athletes bagged 69 medals from international competitions.

The recognition of our sportsmen and the BOC comes at an appropriate time when the young see competitive sports as an opportunity and when skill and talent are the prerequisites of success. With the right policy and infrastructure, more and more Bhutanese youth would follow Chencho and Tandin and excel in a field that is open to all to compete.