President of Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) UgenTsechup Dorji talks to Business Bhutan’s reporter DechenDolkar on becoming an executive member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) during the 29th AFC congress held in Malaysia on April 6, how has football changed in Bhutan and the challenges plaguing football development in the country.
UgenTsechup Dorji will represent south zone of AFC that includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for four years until 2023.
Q. Congratulations on being elected as the AFC executive committee member and being the first Bhutanese ever to serve such a coveted post. How do you feel?
A. I feel proud of what I have achieved, not for myself but for my country whom I represent in the AFC.
Q. As you have been closely associated with football in the country, how has football changed in Bhutan in the last five to ten years?
A. One thing that has definitely changed for the better is the infrastructure and the opportunities for the players as well as those involved in football. The fans also have had the opportunity to see more international teams playing compared to the past. Due to increased financial support from FIFA and AFC, our footballers get to play so many more tournaments and also exposure to play teams from outside, which was not the case in the past. In the past most of the teams we played were from neighboring states of India.
Q. Now as the AFC executive committee member, what would be your areas of focus or interventions?
A. Being a part of the AFC executive committee member would allow me to have a voice when it comes to focus on programs and budget. During my tenure, I will focus on extra attention and assistance for developing football nations, providing technical assistance in all areas to strengthen the structure of the associations and build professionalism. The overall focus of course is to developed football in Asia since we believe Asia is the future.
Q. What are the challenges plaguing football development in Bhutan?
A. The biggest challenge for football development in Bhutan is the lack of professional footballers. Our players cannot make a living playing football; therefore they cannot give 100% to the sport. I still believe that the government can do more to promote football, taxes are still charged on import of football equipment; even if it’s for the national team, leave aside the private clubs. Companies cannot hire players as players and book it in their accounts. Corporate are not encouraged to start clubs since the expenses are not deductable. There is a general school sports program, but no focus on football even though the football federation has agreed to fund it. Last, but most important, there is a lack of hunger in most of our players. The sense to be the best and excel is limited to within their circle and they don’t see beyond. Until sports is seen as a career option by the youth and also seen by the government as building sound and upright citizens, development of football going beyond the borders of Bhutan will be difficult.
Q. What solutions do you recommend to make football more passionate among the young people and as a future career?
A. Bhutan Football Federation is hopeful that with the programs we have in place, where we combine sports and academics in one area with our upcoming football academy in Thimphu and in the near future in Gelephu, we will be able to produce better players. We are also hopeful that our proposal to the government to initiate a high level exclusive interschool football tournament whereby the two top teams could take part in an inter school SAARC football tournament initiated by BFF will be supported. Through this I feel our youth will get the exposure to compete on an equal footing with other bigger nations and give them the confidence to believe in themselves. We will also try and initiate cooperation with other countries to allow our players to play in their clubs and join their league. Not only players but coaches, referees as well as those involved in the management of football. We also intend to start an institution where we will provide training to youth interested to pursue career in football administration in all areas. We hope with these programs in place, we will have more youth involved and more fan following.
Q. Any additional comments?
A. I would like to thank all my well-wishers for their support and messages. I will strive to work even harder to develop football within Bhutan and make sure it reaches every corner of our country.