Yearender |  Sports: The year of the Monkey proved to be a fruitful year for sports in Bhutan with both athletes and federations achieving much recognition.

One of the biggest feats achieved was the successful hosting of the 50th Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship in September last year. Bhutanese athletes bagged 11 medals in different categories, the highest so far in an international competition. More than 450 international athletes and officials from 28 Asian countries took part in the competition held in Thimphu.

Tennis enthusiasts in the country also enjoyed a good season with numerous tournaments organised by the federation. The Asian Tennis Tour came to Bhutan for the first time in 2016, and top six Bhutanese players took part in the competition in September. Although none could win the title, Tenzin Singye and Kinley Wangchuk reached the quarter and semi finals respectively.

The year of the Monkey also saw several young talents being recognised for their contribution in the field of sports. Fifteen-year-old Tenzin Singye Dorji became the youngest national tennis champion.

Karma Wangmo, 14, became the youngest athlete to bring home a medal from the 12th South Asian Games held in India. Karma bagged a bronze medal in taekwondo in her debut appearance in an international competition.

The unsung hero of the national football team, Biren Basnet, along with versatile Nima Wangdi, made headlines for their contribution in the development of football in the country. The rising female footballer, Ngawang Yangchen finally found her passion for football and has become an inspiration for up and coming female athletes.

Judo also remained in the headlines with its ever-growing popularity among  martial artist aficionados. Several training sessions and competitions were organised by the Bhutan Judo Association, which saw positive support from some former Olympians.

Archery also grabbed the limelight when woman  archer, Karma, put up an outstanding performance at the Rio Olympics.       Although winning a medal at the grandest stage of them all: the Olympics, still remains a far-flung dream for Bhutan, Karma’s performance against the fifth-ranked Tuiana Dashidorzhieva of Russia indicated that realising that dream may not be too far off.

Karma, who was seeded 229 in the World Rankings, drew three of the five sets against the Russian World number 11 during the first round of the elimination stage.

The women’s national basketball team picked up their first international win by defeating Bangladesh 61-29 at the first South Asian Basketball Championship in Kathmandu on April 1.

Like the previous year, football dominated the sport news in 2016. The growing local leagues contributed to the improvement of the national squad. Along with the talent from young footballers, experienced veterans were also call on for the national team.

In what was a clear demonstration of dominance, the Bhutanese national team defeated Bangladesh 3-1 in the second leg of the AFC Asian Cup playoff qualifiers at Changlimithang Stadium.

Thimphu City FC conquered almost all the major competitions organised in the country. The first women’s league also began in the year of the Monkey, with City winning the first league title.

Considered to be the worst team in the world, Bhutan who started from rock-bottom was recognised and presented with the award for the AFC aspiring member association of the year by the Asian Football Confederation in December.

They came, they saw and they conquered: A girls team from Sakteng overwhelmed the much-experienced team of Pelkhil School when the highlanders defeated the city team 2-1 in a friendly match in December.

Much to the awe of the spectators and participants alike, the Sakteng girls won the game barefoot. “I like to feel the ground and the ball when I touch it. It makes me feel I’m a part of the game,” were the words at the end of the game from Pema Tshomo, the youngest player on the Sakteng team.

However, controversies did inflict this every growing sector last year. In an unprecedented move, an archery team filed a case against the organisers of a popular archery tournament, Yangphel Archery Committee, for disqualifying the team during the 19th Yangphel Open Archery Tournament in 2015.

The verdict went in favour of Yangphel Archery Committee. Following the judgement the plaintiff, team Golden Arrows appealed to the High Court.

Towards the end of the fire Monkey year, an incident where illegal transfer of football players from one club to another created much hype in the sport. Breaching of contracts by some of the players has spurred confusion among the clubs today.

Meanwhile, the Bhutan Olympic Committee and the federations and associations affiliated with the committee had a successful sporting season in the year of the Monkey.

Despite all the controversies, lack of transparency and budget constraints that surround the sporting realm today, sports in Bhutan has seen an unprecedented growth.

With the building of grassroots talent by respective federations, the talent pool for sports is expected to grow. All that it needs now is the much-deserved limelight and support from the public.

Younten Tshedup