Wednesday, 15 December 2012 was a rather special day for football in Bhutan, as HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen opened the country’s first football turf pitches. The installation of a full-size pitch and two mini-pitches was made possible thanks to FIFA’s financial support and it represented a major step in the development of football in Bhutan, a country that is always in the lower reaches of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
At a ceremony held in the immediate vicinity of the national stadium in March 2012, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, accompanied by Prince Jigyel, broke the ground on the new football pitches as the third and fourth Goal projects of the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF).
“The future of football is in Asia where two-thirds of the world’s population lives. It’s not only an economic market but it can be a football market,” said the FIFA President at a press conference, underlining the key social and educational aspects of football for young people in Bhutan.
“When you’re playing football, you’re in good condition; and when you entertain people, it’s a healthy society," said Blatter. "What’s important is not just learning how to win, but also how to lose – and that’s the essence of team sports."
Improvement of infrastructure and promotion of league
The new pitches were opened just nine months after the FIFA President’s visit, and in the next few weeks a field test is scheduled which should clear the pitches for international football competition, according to the requirements of the FIFA Quality Programme.
“The pitches in Bhutan had to be adapted to meet local conditions," said Prof. Dr. Eric Harrison about the special requirements for the project, for which construction work began in March 2012 and was completed in October 2012. "Thimphu is 2,500 metres above sea level and has cold winters, hot summers and a monsoon season.
"The pitch has to be able to withstand all of those conditions. In addition, a football turf pitch has to be able to cope with being used more than a natural grass pitch, so this is also checked in tests according to the requirements of the FIFA Quality Programme,”
The pitches are open five days a week from 06.00 until midnight, with people coming from all over Bhutan to use the facilities. In addition to league matches, the turf fields also play host to various other competitions primarily organised by the BFF, as well as national team training sessions.
“It’s not just the football family – including the President and the General Secretary of the BFF – who play on the pitch, but also King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck,” adds Prof. Harrison, underlining the importance of the pitches to this small country in South Asia.
Maintenance costs covered by pitch fees
The success of the pitches has been backed up by the growth of the league, which has been getting stronger and stronger in recent times. An increasing number of fans are flocking to matches as the league is now more competitive and attractive, and the players are also improving thanks to the better training facilities at their disposal.
It is not just the “big guns” who are allowed to use the pitches, however. Children up to the age of 12 are given two hours on the fields two days per week to play grassroots football. The programme has been an immediate success, as more and more parents are now bringing their children to the Chanjiji Football Ground.
To ensure the pitches will also meet the players’ requirements in the years to come, they are closed for two days a week to allow maintenance work to be carried out, which is vital as the pitches are in heavy demand.
The pitch maintenance costs are covered by the BFF’s decision to charge USD $50 per match, a fee that is also being used to create reserves to cover any future costs. These pitches truly have been an investment in the future and a positive development in Bhutan football.