Nima | Gelephu
The lone women football academy has produced most of the women footballers in the country, but for many, their passion for football ends when they graduate from the academy.
Without a scope to take up playing football as a career, many choose to focus on their studies. Sonam Choden, 18, was among the first batch of girls to be trained at the academy. She is worried if she would get an opportunity to play football while continuing to study.
She said that women footballers in the country lack the opportunity to choose a proper path after graduating from the academy. “There is a need to create an opportunity for girls to continue playing football. Their talents and the time spent training in the academy are wasted without opportunities,” she said.
She added that developing a proper club system that would help women in the country earn a living playing football would be encouraging.
“We have been here since a young age and even during vacation, we are engaged in playing international tournaments. We get to learn about life from here through football,” Sonam Choden said.
Today there are over 48 under-15 and under-18 girls in the academy. Every year, Bhutan Football Federation selects a new batch of under-15 players to be trained in the academy.
Since the start of the academy in 2015, the highest achievement in women’s football to date was a third position by the under-15 girl’s team in the U-15 SAFF championship in 2018.
Another academy player, Deki Lhazom, said women’s football needs to be given equal importance. “There is no adequate focus on women’s football. There should be a good coach, a foreign coach,” she said. “The players were removed from the academy when there were no matches last year. The players feel insecure.”
Coach Yeshi Wangchuk of the academy said women’s national league is developing every year. “Over 13 academy graduates are with Ugyen Academy and Sunrise football club now. Women’s league is becoming competitive annually,” he said.
He added that there are clubs who are planning to pay for the players and train them regularly unlike in the past where training was done over a short period.
“There would be a national senior women’s team selection and the federation is planning to pay like the senior men’s national team,” said Yeshi Wangchuk.
An official from the academy said the players were given scholarships to pursue higher studies after completing the academy. “Many stopped playing football from this point. Now they can choose to study or continue playing football. They can take up football as a career. There are opportunities in coaching and referring too,” he said.
Without strong domestic competition, the young women’s team from the academy depended hugely on international games for growth and player development. Several international championships for women were cancelled in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The training for the academy players could not be held regularly this year.
“It’s more benefitting when the players get to play more international games. They gain more exposure and learn from the games,” Yeshi Wangchuk said. “The pandemic disturbed the training plans. This could have some impact on players too.”
The Bhutan Football Federation is planning to organise a women’s league in the east this year. The federation is looking for a venue for the tournament currently.