Male Iron Rat Year

Thinley Namgay

The Year of the Rat saw several strides in the field of games and sports in the country. If not for the Covid-19 pandemic, Bhutan would have been in the Olympics for the tenth time last year.

Karma, 29, became the first Bhutanese athlete to qualify for an Olympic quota. She booked a spot in the Women’s recurve archery category at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics during a qualifiers in Bangkok in November 2019.

However, owing to the pandemic, the International Olympic Committee postponed the games scheduled for July 2020 to later this year in July.

Sports became more attractive with the introduction of several monetary incentives. The medalists of the 13th South Asian Games and their coaches received a revised remuneration under the Sports Excellence Awards.

Football was once again in the limelight. National football players, arguably, became the highest earners among athletes. Salary for women footballers was leveled at par with their male counterparts at Nu 30,000 a month. This was made possible with the Royal Soelra from His Majesty The King.

Four years after their last championship, Thimphu City FC were crowned the national champions last year. Thimphu City will play in AFC qualifiers against the Maldivian club, Eagles, this April.

Chencho Dorji and Ugyen Dorji signed up with Sudeva Delhi FC as coaches. Chencho Dorji currently heads the team as head coach. Chencho Gyeltshen joined forces with RoundGlass Punjab FC in the I-league.

High Quality United FC defeated Paro United FC to win the Bhutan Super League title, the country’s second most popular football competition.

Football in 2020 would also be remembered for some wrong reasons. Druk Stars FC’s coach, Kota Namgay, was banned for life from football, after he was found involved in an alleged match-fixing scam in the BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL).


International appearances

Bhutan made a few international appearances despite the pandemic. Paro FC defeated Defenders FC of Sri Lanka in the AFC qualifiers, but suffered a crushing defeat from Bengaluru FC (9-1) in their second game.

The 2018 BPL champion, Transport United FC, lost 0-3 in the second semifinals against Oil India FC at the All India Chief Ministers’ Gold Cup International Tournament in Sikkim.

Under-15 boys took part in the South Asian Football Federation’s Championship in Kolkata. Under-17 national women’s team defeated Meghalaya 4-2 in a FIFA friendly game in Shillong, Meghalaya, India.

The Bhutan Olympic Committee conducted the Bhutan International Marathon in Punakha. Around 300 runners including foreign participants took part in the marathon.

Venturing into a ‘new normal’ Bhutan Archery Federation organised a two-day online friendly archery tournament with Japan. The tournament was conducted using the Zoom App.

Former Olympian, Lenchu Kunzang, took part in a virtual shooting competition organised by Bangladesh in October.


Pandemic impacts other important sport events

The Bhutan Women’s National Football Championship in Punakha, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Gold Cup at Phuentsholing, Tour of the Dragon, and the snowman run were all called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The final match of the fourth Mewang Gyalsey Traditional Archery Tournament was deferred.

The BPL last season was played without any international signings. This increased the transfer fee for the domestic players. Thimphu City FC signed midfielder, Dawa Tshering, from Transport United FC with a transfer fee of Nu 250,000 which is the highest so far.

To ease the financial burden to football clubs amid pandemic, BFF offered Nu 2 million to each of the eight clubs competing in the BPL.

Achievement in other sporting fields 

Dorokha based volleyball team, Bundles, defeated Haiku to win their first national championship.

Kinley Wangmo, a grade XI student of Dechencholing Higher Secondary School in Thimphu, won the Women’s double and mixed-double categories at the 19th national badminton championship.

Kinley Tshering  and Tandin Wangchuk became Bhutan’s first judokas to attain the second-dan black belt. They were awarded in Japan, where they are currently pursuing their Bachelors in Sports Management at Seisa Dohto University in Hokkaido.

Karma Choden from Thimphu won the first position in the three-minute Global Video Blogging Competition. Yoga enthusiasts, Phuntsho Dema and Chainga Dorji stood second in an international yoga-blogging competition.

Meanwhile, during the final archery game between team Buddhist Arts and Radhi gewog, one of Radhi gewog’s players was arrested by police while the match was being broadcast live on TV.

Lack of sponsorship plagued the sports realm even during the Rat’s year.  However, taking the pandemic as an opportunity, Paro FC initiated activities to develop its sporting infrastructure at Woochu Sports Arena in Paro.