AFC President Cup stimulates Bhutan club football

When the Bhutan Football Federation became a member of the international football governing body, FIFA and the regional body, Asian Football Confederation in 2000, it was made mandatory to have a structured activity for the sport that covered the whole country. A FIFA development team has concluded, however, that football is yet to be diversified outside the capital city of Thimphu.

In 2001, BFF began registering clubs under three categories A, B, and C divisions. As an encouragement, it also gave a grant of Nu.60,000 for each club, majority of whom were from the districts of Thimphu, Chukha, Paro, and Samtse.

“We began like other countries but it did not have the same result,” said BFF’s technical head Mindu Dorji. To lay the foundation we gave them grants hoping that in the course of time they would sustain themselves. But they did not, and the regional clubs disintegrated in no time and BFF had to shelve its plan similarly in other districts,” he told Kuensel newspaper.

“In other countries the clubs are richer than the national association. Business communities sponsor the clubs providing items from boots to training facilities. But here clubs fizzle out due to lack of funds and no one is interested to help them out.”

The federation gave another try. In 2002, it divided the 20 districts into four regions, appointed a dzongkhag official in each region as the coordinator of the sport and allocated a budget of Nu. 100,000 a region. A year later the federation had to forgo this initiative as well.

Today there are a total of eight ‘A’ division clubs, nine ‘B’ division, and 16 ‘C’ division Thimphu-based clubs registered under the federation. Clubs like Yedzin FC, Transport United, Drukstar and Drukpol FC have already established their position among the fans.

The clubs point at two reasons for this dramatic revival of the sport; the cash prize for the topper of the championship had been doubled to Nu. 60,000 from this year and the winning club also gets to participate in the AFC President Cup abroad with leading clubs from other ‘emerging’ national associations. Last year’s champion Transport United participated in the inaugural tournament of the Cup in Nepal in May this year.

“We see a huge scope in this (AFC President Cup) for our club to develop as a professional football club. The incentive would also help us financially,” said Bikash Pradhan of Yedzin FC.