Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Residents of Phuentsholing, who suffered repeated and prolonged lockdowns in the last two years, have found something to celebrate at long last.

It is the first ever women’s football tournament.

There are 15 teams. It is for the first time in the country that this record number of women teams are participating in a tournament.

Of the total teams, 12 are from Phuentsholing and three from upper regions of Chukha.

Entering its second week since it kicked off on July 2, the tournament is garnering huge support from the public.

Organised by the Phuentsholing Sports Association (PSA) and supported by the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), it is also the first major football tournament organised in the bordering town since the Covid-19 hit the country.

From students to working women from private, corporations, government agencies, including breastfeeding women, the tournament has become the talk of the town. Players are seen practising daily in the morning and evening.

A 16-year-old Sonam Yangchen of Chumigthang MSS, playing for Young Girls’ FC said she is passionate about football.

“I have been playing since 2015,” she said, adding that her dream is to represent Bhutan someday.

Sujeta Subba from team Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited said she was waiting for such opportunities.

“I used to play in the school team from Class seven to 12,” she said.

A football enthusiast, Sonam said that this is a historic moment.

“The numbers speak,” he said, adding that the tournament empowers women and participation.

The general secretary with PSA, Sonam Lhagyel, said they expected about four to five teams.

“We wanted the tournament to happen. We wanted to give opportunities to women,” he said. “But we were surprised by the number of teams willing to participate.”

Sonam Lhagyel said that PSA is planning to make the tournament an annual event. This time, the teams also don’t have to pay participation fees.

PSA also recently concluded the Higher Secondary School Championship under Phuentsholing Thromde. There were two teams, Phuentsholing HSS and Yonten Kuenjong Academy (YKA). YKA won the match and will compete with other higher secondary teams in Chukha.

Three tournaments are also underway in Phuentsholing, according to the PSA official. An open football tournament, departmental, and veteran tournament will be held this year.

Sonam Lhagyel said PSA is an NGO and sustainability is always a challenge.

“People say the ground fees are expensive. But it is not; compared to other places,” he said.

He said most of what PSA earns from ground fees goes into a savings account, which will be used for repair and maintenance works. The balance is spent for PSA staff salaries.

“We don’t make profit,” the general secretary said.

PSA is also constructing two more sports facilities, a futsal ground and an open court for lawn tennis.