Thinley Namgay

Unlike in the past, no sports ground in the capital is free for the public.

It started a few years back when Thimphu suddenly saw many mini football pitches, artificial football turfs, and basketball courts owned by private individuals.

People are primarily into football and basketball in Thimphu. Today, the capital has 15 mini football pitches, four artificial football turfs, and four basketball courts.

Some say that inclusive usage of sports facilities is missing in Bhutan and it could cause social disparity as the trend is shifting towards commercial sports where the less privileged don’t get an equal opportunity.

People express the need for greater collaboration between the relevant stakeholders such as the Bhutan Olympic Committee (BOC), the government, sports federations and associations, dzongkhags sports associations, and the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) to address the issue.

As the parent organisation for the development of the sport, BOC has been helping sports federations, associations and dzongkhags sports associations to develop the infrastructure. But for sustainability, free offers are limited from all these sports organisations.

BOC’s head of sports research and development division, Namgay Wangchuk, said that the committee was concerned about the affordability. “Federations are charging minimal fees for the maintenance. BOC plans to build the sports infrastructure in the open space for free, but we don’t have land.”

He said that BOC doesn’t have the authority to regulate the price regarding the private grounds as it is private property.

An official from the DYS said that sports are for the holistic development of the children, physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. “It would be better if federations could provide an opportunity for the youth to use their facilities free of cost or at a discount rate. DYS has requested Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) to look into it.”

DYS official said that developing sports facilities is good, but we should equally concern about the underprivileged ones. “In Singapore, the government develop the sports facilities in school and let the public and youth use them.”

Currently, BFF is working on listing the less privileged youth who are interested in playing football.

BFF’s competition officer, Kinley Dorji, said that nine football clubs in the capital engage youth in football but not everyone gets the chance.

These clubs provide coaching during summer and winter break, where they charge Nu 800 to Nu 1,500 per child.

Kinley Dorji said the BFF would allocate the grounds and sports equipment to the under-privileged students. “BFF can’t give the opportunity at once for all. As a pilot phase, it will start from Thimphu. We would let them play in the weekends.”

Starting May this year, BFF has provided free grounds for women two hours a day.

Turf owners, in the meanwhile, are making a good income.

Bangdu Futsal official at Changbangdu said that the business was good, although it’s new. She said on weekdays, the charge is Nu 1,000 per hour during day and Nu 1,200 at night. On weekends and public holidays, the rate is Nu 1,200 per hour.

“Our main customers are students. With the completion of the toilet and shower room, we expect more players,” she said.

The Kay Dee Futsal’s official at Changzamtog charges Nu 1,200 per hour on weekdays and Nu 1,500 on weekends. “In the weekdays, at least six games are played. It’s more than seven on weekends.”

Sports enthusiasts are concerned about affordability.

Basketball enthusiasts, Tandin Om, said that she used to play basketball with her friends twice a week paying Nu 1,000 per game. Students and unemployed find it expensive.

“Most of the sports facilities are run by private sector solely to make money. The government should install free playing areas for a low and average group of people.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk