The FIFA Congress adopted Bhutan as the 204th member of the FIFA family - a small country with a great passion for football.
5 August 2000: a date that Khare Basnet will probably never forget, and one which may well go down in the history of his homeland. This was the day on which Bhutan was adopted as the 204th member of the FIFA family during the 52nd Ordinary Congress in Zurich. "For the people of Bhutan a dream has come true," said Basnet, the general secretary of the Bhutan Football Association. "We are unbelievably happy and proud that we too are now members of the FIFA family."
The Kingdom of Bhutan, little known perhaps but a beautiful and fascinating country, lies between the People's Republic of China and India. It is relatively small with an area of 46,500 km2 and a population of around 700,000. But despite the lack of size the passion for football is enormous; it is by far the most popular sport in this Himalayan state. "My people love football above all else," explained Basnet, who used to play himself, even though when he was a child he sometimes had to overcome real difficulties to get a game. "Often I had to go two hours on foot before I reached the nearest football pitch," he reminisced. No surprise; in this mountainous country, where the highest peak is over 7000 meters, transport is not readily available and getting from one place to another can be a long and difficult process.
But such handicaps do not diminish the people's love for football. There are about 900 amateur players, with about 1500 juniors under 15, 500 under 17 and 200 under 20. There are also 250 licensed women players. Yet while Bhutan has had its own football association since 1974 and been a member of the Asian confederation (AFC) since 1994, the country does not yet have any professional players.
The 80 teams in the country are divided into three divisions: in Division A there are 12 teams, in Division B 20 and in Division C 48. There are 32 referees to take charge of the matches.
The various national teams have managed to gather some international experience. For example the U-19s took part in the Asian junior qualifiers in 1998 and this year the A team was in the qualifying round for the next Asia Cup.
Even more football
The people of Bhutan are a helpful and hospitable race and their enthusiasm for football was demonstrated very clearly last July. When the teams of the Thimphu Football Club and the Police Football Club met for a match in the top division there were 15,000 spectators - an incredible turnout if you consider that Thimphu has a population of only 30,000.
In the near future this little town, where the Bhutan Football Association has its headquarters, employing four full-time staff, there are plans under way to construct a new, modern stadium with a capacity of 25,000. Not only is the government providing support for this project, but the Royal Family too - they are also keen fans.
The status of football in Bhutan looks to be on the rise, and this trend is certainly aided by the government. They have plans to develop the game more in schools so that more children and young people will have the opportunity to play in their leisure time.
That is Bhutan - a small country with a big footballing heart.