Tuesday 26 December 2023, 13:45

FIFA helps make football number one in Bhutan

  • Bhutan has one of the highest growth levels of football in the world

  • Programmes such as FIFA Forward and other initiatives have played a large role in the growth

  • Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) President Dasho Ugen Tsechup was one of the speakers at the FIFA Football Summit 2023.

Addressing the FIFA Member Associations attending the FIFA Football Summit 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the President of the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), Dasho Ugen Tsechup, said football is the number one sport in Bhutan thanks to FIFA assistance. Since the introduction of the FIFA Forward programme in 2016, Bhutan has been a flagship example of how a developing football nation can use FIFA programmes and initiatives to boost their participation and interest levels.

"I think there will be a lot of people who claim that they are the poster child for FIFA, but I think I should be given the number one claim to say that I’m the actual child for FIFA because before the FIFA Forward programme, football in Bhutan was at this [low] level, today we are [high]," said Mr Tsechup. "We have reached all across the country. We carried out a census on which is the most popular sport in Bhutan and football came out number one even though our traditional sport is archery. That in itself shows how much FIFA has helped Bhutan football grow." The FIFA Forward programme provides FIFA’s 211 Member Associations with funding for tailormade football-related projects, and the BFF has used the money received to make significant improvements to the country’s football infrastructure.

Young Bhutanese players celebrate after scoring a goal

Recent developments have proved that intelligent investment can lead to football being played in any environment, including a mountainous country, whose terrain was previously considered unsuitable for football. Several artificial pitches have been installed, new BFF headquarters are under construction and the country recently launched their first-ever football academy. “Bhutan is a very mountainous country and it’s very difficult for us to have natural pitches so in the past we were playing on mud pitches and dirt pitches, which was causing a lot of injuries for our boys. “At that point in time, we had no girls or women’s football. It was only when FIFA helped us with our infrastructure that we were able to promote women's football and now we can proudly say that Bhutan has been recognised as the fastest-growing women’s football association in Asia.”

Bhutan midfielder Pema Choden Tshering # 6 in action in an international match against Nepal

Benefits have been seen almost immediately, with football quickly overtaking archery as the nation’s most popular sport and the women’s national team surpassing all expectations with impressive results. Bhutan are currently ranked 172nd in the FIFA/Cola-Cola Women’s World Rankings (15 December 2023) having been ranked between 150th and 178th in the past four years. They are also ranked 184th in the FIFA/Cola-Cola Men’s World Rankings (21 December 2023) having been ranked between 182nd and 190th in the past five years. Importantly, the BFF are also looking to inspire the next generation and strengthening grassroots football in the country, having introduced the FIFA Football for Schools programme in July 2023, which aims to teach children football and life skills.

"The aspiration is to ensure that football is not only about making a career option as a footballer, but as very eloquently put by the team of referees here, that the option of becoming a referee, the option of becoming a coach, the option of being able to see a career working in the FIFA administrative offices is attainable. "So, these are all career options that we are trying to promote to inspire the children, but that can only happen if we give them an opportunity to find a space to play, to develop the infrastructure that is needed within the country to establish even the academies so that children can be a part of this process that we, the Bhutan Football Federation, through the support of FIFA, are taking forward."

From 2016 to 2022 under FIFA Forward, the BFF installed four full-size artificial pitches across the country, including one at the Gelephu residential Girls’ Football Academy of the BFF for training and competitive matches of girls’ and women’s national teams. The other pitches are at Samtse, which hosted the first-ever Samtse football tournament in early 2019 involving nine teams, including some from neighbouring India, and two more in Thimphu, the Kingdom’s capital. They provide state-of-the-art facilities which will aid player development. In Thimphu, the pitch at the Royal Thimphu College has also been installed and competitive BFF matches are also played there. The fourth pitch at Bebena in Thimphu was initially delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but has since been completed and is now being used by the football community. Bhutan has already witnessed increased participation levels, with longer hours of training, and this has immensely benefited local clubs and Bhutan’s national teams.

Discover more

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The core principles

Find out more about the FIFA Forward core principles.

Programme history

Explore the history of the FIFA Forward Programme since the first edition in 2016.