Iron Female Ox Year-Sports: Despite Covid-19 disrupting most of the sporting activities in the country in 2021, sports in general saw achievements and made the country proud.

The nation rejoiced in December last year when Sapuna Subba, a Class XII student of Gesarling Central School in Dagana, took part in badminton competition at the Asian Youth Para Games in Bahrain and bagged two bronze medals for the country. It was Bhutan’s maiden participation.

Badminton player Sapuna Subba

Sapuna competed in the singles and mixed doubles category among participants from 30 Asian countries.

Mani Kumar Rai, a low vision student of Muenselling Institute, Khaling, participated in the men’s long jump at that time.

The year 2021 was also noteworthy as Bhutanese 2020 Olympics and Paralympic participants in Japan did their personal best.

Archer Karma, swimmer Sangay Tenzin, shooter Lenchu Kunzang and Judoka Ngawang Namgyel represented Bhutan in the Olympics.

Karma lost three straight sets to Deepika Kumari of India. However, she maintained a competitive game with India’s number one. Karma’s performance was appreciable as the three sets’ scores were 26-23, 26-23 and 27-24. One of Karma’s arrows hit the 10 pointer ring in the third set, is the highest.

Swimmer Sangay Tenzin completed his 100 metre (m) freestyle in 57.57 seconds (sec). His performance in the Olympics was better than in Thailand.  Sangay stood fifth out of seven members in his group.

Mihrac Akkus from Turkey defeated judoka Ngawang Namgyel. Ngawang lost the match in two minutes and 56sec.

Shooter Lenchu Kunzang was eliminated in a 10m Air Rifle Women’s Qualification round on July 24. She scored 618.1 points out of 654. Lenchu was ranked 43rd out of 50 shooters.

Para athletes Gyeltshen, Chimi Dema, and Pema Rigsel represented Bhutan for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Japan between August 24 and September 5. Their performance was commendable.

Chimi Dema broke her personal best record of 4.51m  in the shot put event and set a  new record of 5.04m.

On September 4, Gyeltshen also broke his record in the men’s F40 shot put event. Gyeltshen threw 6.31m, surpassing his previous record of  6.29m.

After scoring 523 points out of 720 in the ranking round, a 34-year-old para-archer Pema Rigsel lost to the Russian archer Kirill Smirnov 2-6 in the elimination rounds of the men’s individual recurve open. From the four sets, Pema Rigsel won one set.   Cricket in 2021 became more reputed.

National cricketer Ranjung Mikyo Dorji debuted for the Nepali cricket franchise team, Lalitpur Patriots, in Kathmandu. He became the first Bhutanese to feature in an international cricket club.   Women’s vice-captain, Anju Gurung, was selected to participate in the first world fair break invitational women’s T20 cricket tournament in Hongkong.

The women’s national cricket team defeated Kuwait by 40 runs in the 2021 International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifiers in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, despite brilliant play, the girls lost to Nepal, UAE, Hongkong, and Malaysia.

The construction of the Gelephu international cricket ground is about to be completed, which can host international matches.

Football continued to grow and inspired youth.

The under-19 national women’s football team defeated Sri Lanka 5-0 in Bangladesh’s 2021 South Asian Football Federation U-19 Women’s Championship. For the first time, the five officials—team manager, head coach, assistant coach, physiotherapist, and media officer who went together with the players in Bangladesh were all women.

Footballer Chencho Gyeltshen joined the Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters from the RoundGlass Punjab FC in September. Former High Quality United FC player Kezang joined Garhwal Heroes FC in India.

The 2020 BoB Bhutan Premier League champion Thimphu City FC played against Maldives’ Club Eagles in the preliminary round one of the Asian Football Confederation Cup in April. City lost 2-0 despite maximum ball possession.

Paro FC and Sudeva FC of India signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance football further. One of the main areas of MoU was to collaborate for football development programmes in schools, colleges, and communities by organising tournaments at mutually agreed locations.

Paro FC also won the 2021 BOB Bhutan Premier League on October 2 at Woochu Sports Arena in Paro. After two years, the Tigers managed to draw the game 1-1 against the defending Champions Thimphu City FC to reclaim the title. Tigers fetched 45 points, and Cityzens  managed 43.

The Bhutan Football Federation introduced a mini dragon league to bring grassroots football development. The federation also introduced a district league to make BOB Bhutan Premier League more inclusive.

The 2021 Bhutan Women’s Football League was played at home and away venues for the first time. Six teams from Thimphu, Paro and Punakha participated. However, due to the pandemic, Bhutan’s men’s national football team couldn’t participate in the 2021 South Asian Football Federation Championship.

Other sports also showed progress and imbibed hope.

In December, swimmer Sangay Tenzin and Kinley Lhendup participated in the 15th edition of the FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.

Bhutan Volleyball Federation is upgrading the existing volleyball courts at Changlimithang into an international standard. An artificial mat, toilet facilities, lighting, locker room and storeroom will be put in place.

Bhutan Tennis Federation (BTF) completed the maintenance of four tennis courts at the National Tennis Centre in Thimphu which caters to many national level tournaments. BTF also became a full member of the International Tennis Federation, which will help further promote tennis in Bhutan.

Almost eight years after the chess federation became dormant, the Bhutan Olympic Committee started the chess club in July. Prior to that, Binod Rai, 29, from Sarpang, stood overall second in the maiden Chess4Solidarity online competition between Bhutan and Israel.

Boxing once again came into the limelight in 2021.

A 23-year-old former boxer, Tandin Lham, from Dagana, opened a boxing studio in Thimphu. The studio was the first to be started by women.

Bhutan also saw some new sports in 2021 such as enduro (mountain biking), skate, and under-15 Bhutan Amateur Baseball League, which is ongoing in Thimphu among five schools.

However, despite progress and achievement, sports also grappled with some issues and challenges in 2021.

Former Druk Stars FC’s coach, Kota Namgay, who was previously banned for life by the BFF for match-fixing, was charged for passive commercial bribery by the Office of the Attorney General.

Lack of quality and adequate sports facilities, funds and qualified coaches continues to hinder sports development; private sports facilities were expensive for many.

Unsafe archery ranges in the country and mishaps caused by the stray arrows continue to rise. Thimphu alone recorded more than 20 mishaps related to archery. The Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association conducted ‘safe bow draw training’ for the compound archery players at Changlimithang archery range to address the issue.

There was also the question of public accountability. The government established ten outdoor gym facilities in the capital in 2015 to combat non-communicable diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle. However, most remained non-functional in 2021.