Sports stole the limelight this week both for good and bad reasons.
We saw an Indian football club appoint a Bhutanese as their U-18 coach making him the second Bhutanese to venture into coaching profession outside Bhutan. Football fans also celebrated Bhutan’s star, Chencho Gyeltshen join an Indian League club, RoundGlass Punjab FC.
That Bhutanese players and coaches are signing for clubs outside is an indication of the development of football in the country. Many will miss Chencho playing in the domestic leagues, but everybody feels he should practice his trade in more competitive leagues and better clubs.
In the same week, the match-fixing incident in the on-going BoB Premier League dampened the spirit of those closely following the development of sports in the country. It is the first time, at least known to all, that match-fixing has happened in the country. The coach was met with the harshest of punishments to deter others from spoiling the beautiful game.
Bhutanese are not new to match-fixing in sports. We keep hearing about how greed overshadows professionalism in many sports – from football to cricket to even esports. Sports federations and boards across the world are dealing with the unholy bond between players, coaches or clubs and the bookies. In most cases, money to the tune of millions are involved.
The amount involved may not be comparatively significant, but it has tarnished the image and shaken the confidence. It is a realisation of how sports at all levels are not insulated from corruption.
The incident also comes at a time when sports have reached a different level. We started with venturing across our borders to take part in smaller regional tournaments. We are now competing in big regional and international tournaments including the World Cup qualifiers.
Football, against all odds, has developed and has become the most popular sports in the country. We are encouraging sports among youth because apart from the physical talent, it is an activity that builds personality and character. We have a sizable fan group following the local clubs competing in the highest league. We have fans of footballers and young boys and girls who want to emulate Chencho Gyeltshen. Some are seeing a future in sports, especially football.
Sport, because of what it can do to physical and mental development, is thought to be clean. From what is happening in the sports world and perhaps at home, it is not quite so. Sports like archery, the national game, is not popular with youth. It is either expensive or not competitive or is associated with alcohol and a huge expenditure and tricks behind the archery range.
But football has caught the imagination. And there are developments. The infrastructure is better. Artificial turf is a new addition in many dzongkhags, but it is out of reach of the young. There are sponsors and investment in football to help youth take up sports as a career, but accusations are rife in selecting the best. This includes selecting a national squad.
We see officials, experts, and trainers from FIFA and other world sporting bodies visit Bhutan quite often. We see funds pouring in and making revenue from sports infrastructure. When there is money in sports, it can blind professionalism.
Today we are only talking about youth not being able to afford a game at Changlimithang or Changjiji grounds because of the hefty fees charged for a game or the accusations against sports federations for not being transparent from selecting players to fund management. In other words, when there is money involved in sports, the call is for transparency.