Iron Female Ox Year-Sports: Although Covid-19 has disrupted most sporting activities in the country in 2021, sport in general has seen achievements and made the country proud.
The nation rejoiced in December last year when Sapuna Subba, a Grade XII student from Gesarling Central School in Dagana, competed in badminton at the Asian Youth Para Games in Bahrain and won two bronze medals for the country. It was Bhutan’s first participation.
Sapuna competed in the singles and mixed doubles category among participants from 30 Asian countries.
Mani Kumar Rai, a visually impaired student from the Muensesling Institute, Khaling, competed in the men’s long jump at this time.
The year 2021 was also remarkable as the Bhutanese participants in the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan gave their best.
Archer Karma, swimmer Sangay Tenzin, shooter Lenchu Kunzang and judoka Ngawang Namgyel have represented Bhutan at the Olympics.
Karma lost three straight sets to India’s Deepika Kumari. However, she maintained a competitive game with India’s number one. Karma’s performance was appreciable as the scores of the three sets were 26-23, 26-23 and 27-24. One of Karma’s arrows hit the 10-pointer ring in the third set, it’s the highest.
Swimmer Sangay Tenzin completed his 100 meters (m) freestyle in 57.57 seconds (sec). His performance at the Olympics was better than in Thailand. Sangay was fifth out of seven members of his group.
Mihrac Akkus from Turkey defeated judoka Ngawang Namgyel. Ngawang lost the match in two minutes and 56 seconds.
Shooter Lenchu Kunzang was eliminated in a women’s 10m air rifle qualifying round on July 24. She scored 618.1 of 654 points. Lenchu was ranked 43rd out of 50 shooters.
Para-athletes Gyeltshen, Chimi Dema and Pema Rigsel represented Bhutan for the 2020 Summer Paralympics in Japan between August 24 and September 5. Their performance was commendable.
Chimi Dema broke her personal best of 4.51m in the shot put and set a new record of 5.04m.
On September 4, Gyeltshen also broke his F40 men’s shot put record. Gyeltshen threw 6.31m, surpassing his previous record of 6.29m.
After scoring 523 out of 720 in the ranking round, 34-year-old para-archer Pema Rigsel lost to Russian archer Kirill Smirnov 2-6 in the recurve playoffs open masculine. Of the four sets, Pema Rigsel won one set. Cricket in 2021 has become more renowned.
National cricketer Ranjung Mikyo Dorji made his debut for Nepalese franchise cricket team, Lalitpur Patriots, in Kathmandu. He became the first Bhutanese to feature in an international cricket club. Women’s vice-captain Anju Gurung has been selected to take part in the inaugural Women’s T20 World Fair Invitational Cricket Tournament in Hong Kong.
The women’s national cricket team beat Kuwait by 40 runs in the Asian qualifier for the International Cricket Council T20 World Cup 2021 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, despite brilliant play, the girls lost to Nepal, UAE, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The construction of Gelephu International Cricket Ground is nearing completion which can host international matches.
Football continued to grow and inspire young people.
The National Women’s Under-19 Football Team defeated Sri Lanka 5-0 in the 2021 South Asian Football Federation Women’s U-19 Championship in Bangladesh. For the first time, the five officials – team manager, head coach, assistant coach, physiotherapist and media officer who accompanied the players to Bangladesh were all women.
Footballer Chencho Gyeltshen joined Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters from RoundGlass Punjab FC in September. Former High Quality United FC player Kezang has joined Garhwal Heroes FC in India.
2020 BoB Bhutan Premier League champions Thimphu City FC faced Club Eagles of the Maldives in the first preliminary round of the Asian Football Confederation Cup in April. City lost 2-0 despite having maximum ball possession.
Paro FC and Sudeva FC of India have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to further improve the game of football. One of the main areas of the MoU was to collaborate on football development programs in schools, colleges and communities by hosting tournaments at mutually agreed venues.
Paro FC also won the BOB Bhutan Premier League 2021 on October 2 at Woochu Sports Arena in Paro. After two years, the Tigers managed to draw 1-1 against defending champions Thimphu City FC to reclaim the title. The Tigers got 45 points and the Cityzens managed 43.
The Football Federation of Bhutan has launched a mini dragon league to foster the development of grassroots football. The federation has also introduced a district league to make the BOB Bhutan Premier League more inclusive.
The Bhutan Women’s Football League 2021 was played home and away for the first time. Six teams from Thimphu, Paro and Punakha participated. However, due to the pandemic, the Bhutan men’s national football team was unable to participate in the 2021 South Asian Football Federation Championship.
Other sports have also shown progress and imbued with hope.
In December, swimmers Sangay Tenzin and Kinley Lhendup competed at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
The Bhutanese Volleyball Federation is upgrading the existing volleyball courts in Changlimithang to an international standard. An artificial carpet, toilets, lighting, a cloakroom and a storeroom will be set up.
The Bhutan Tennis Federation (BTF) has completed the maintenance of four tennis courts at the National Tennis Center in Thimphu, which hosts many national level tournaments. The BTF has also become a full member of the International Tennis Federation, which will help further promote tennis in Bhutan.
Almost eight years after the Chess Federation was mothballed, the Bhutan Olympic Committee launched the Chess Club in July. Before that, 29-year-old Binod Rai from Sarpang was second overall in the first online Chess4Solidarity competition between Bhutan and Israel.
Boxing returned to the spotlight in 2021.
A 23-year-old former boxer, Tandin Lham, from Dagana, has opened a boxing studio in Thimphu. The studio was the first to be created by women.
Bhutan also saw new sports in 2021 such as enduro (mountain biking), skateboarding and the Bhutan Under-15 Amateur Baseball League, which takes place in Thimphu among five schools.
However, despite the progress and achievements, the sport has also struggled with some issues and challenges in 2021.
Former Druk Stars FC manager Kota Namgay, who was previously banned for life by the BFF for match fixing, has been charged with passive commercial bribery by the Attorney General’s office.
The lack of quality and adequate sports facilities, funds and qualified coaches continues to hamper the development of the sport; private sports facilities were expensive for many.
Dangerous archery ranges in the country and incidents caused by stray arrows continue to increase. Thimphu alone has recorded more than 20 archery-related mishaps. The Indigenous Games and Sports Association of Bhutan organized “safe archery training” for compound archery players at Changlimithang Archery Range to solve the problem.
There was also the issue of public accountability. The government established ten outdoor gyms in the capital in 2015 to fight non-communicable diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle. However, most remained non-functional in 2021.