THE POWER OF ASIA: BHUTAN
Today’s ‘The Power of Asia’ story focuses on the country of Bhutan. A small country of just over 750,000 people and yet badminton’s popularity has been increasing at an incredible rate. Badminton Asia (BA) had the chance to interview 2 members of the Bhutan Badminton Federation: Kinley Tshering, the Secretary General and Dorji, the Head Coach of the team. Like the previous Member Associates we’ve interviewed, we wanted to get their insights on how badminton has progressed within the country, how they are coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic and what their goals are for the Federation and for the sport in the upcoming future.
We first had the opportunity to speak with Kinley Tshering, the Secretary General of the Bhutan Badminton Federation. Like so many, Mr. Tshering has been passionate about badminton since he was a child. He worked in the government for over 20 years but in 2014, decided to join the Federation as the Secretary General. Once he took over in 2015, a lot of player development and development programs in the country have gone ahead and improved over the last few years.
We asked him about badminton’s popularity in Bhutan: “Badminton is progressing well, since the 1990s badminton is considered the 3rd most popular sport in the country (after football).” He says. “Everyone plays badminton, despite the country not having a professional badminton player (on a world stage).” However, Mr. Tshering mentions that despite its growing popularity, there are still many difficulties. “The only drawback is that we don’t have a proper badminton hall. Because of this, be it young or old, most people play badminton outside.” But since 2018 he adds that they have hired a big hall which houses 3 courts, hopefully allowing more stability and a foundation for its players to improve on.
Despite the limited resources and budget, Bhutan has steadily been hosting multiple development programs to introduce and train kids in badminton from an early stage. One of the most prominent programs has been our Shuttle Time Program. This is what he had to say:
“Initially, Shuttle Time started in 2012, at that time I wasn't a member yet but I was just a recreational player. After I took over in 2015, we received more subsidies and equipment from Badminton Asia, then we developed badminton across the country more through the Shuttle Time program. So far, we have trained over 500 teachers in the country and more than 5000 students.” Mr. Tshering also notes that because of the program, badminton has reached the remotest areas of the country. He adds “Through Shuttle Time, through our teachers, they have shared their knowledge from the coaches to the schools. The children are already interested in badminton, but through the Shuttle Time program, their interest has increased way more.”
The Shuttle Time program has been a great success as they have hosted 10 Shuttle Time programs in just 2019 alone, but it hasn’t come easy. Their federation only has 3 permanent members: Mr. Tshering and two other coaches. This means that the work and time is only spread between 3 people - something difficult to handle when there’s so limited people. However, they have been working hard in developing all of these programs and Mr. Tshering says that they had help from Badminton World Federation (BWF) and BA. “We have been participating in BWF/BA regional meetings.” He tells us. “Through this we have a good exchange with BA and then based on our active relationship with BA/BWF, they have supported us through equipment and subsidies (for Shuttle Time). Because of this, badminton has progressed in our country over the last few years.”
This year they were supposed to host at least 10 Shuttle Time programs like the previous year, but because of the pandemic, they were unable to do so. “Right now, our main priority is to follow our government protocols. This is very important to us because we are a small populous country, so we have to be very careful. But having said that, we will try our best to conduct at least 5 Shuttle Time programs by December.”
Programs such as Shuttle Time have been affected by the pandemic, however when asked further if the pandemic has affected Bhutan itself, we found ourselves to be quite surprised by his answer. “In general, not much in terms of sports. But economically, there is a small impact. Until August 11 we have had our programs with players and kids in the capital city. We also have our Shuttle Time tutors across the country and we have been giving them advice to engage with the children and senior citizens. As of now, Bhutan has not been affected much.”
At the time of the interview, Bhutan was at a lockdown for 21 days and only then he said that they were slightly affected. But Mr Tshering shares with us that despite the lockdown, badminton is one of 2 sports (the other is tennis) that were allowed to be played. “Because of this we have prepared our Standard of Protocols (SOPs) in the badminton halls.” he informs us. “For example, how to contain the virus. Even though it’s not there, we still have it as a preventive measure. We have developed our own SOPs, so whoever is coming for training or for recreational purposes, everyone can come to the hall and play happily.”
We then had the opportunity to ask the Head Coach, Mr. Dorji on the current situation of badminton in Bhutan. Mr. Dorji was appointed as a coach in 1999 and has been coaching for almost 20 years. He’s a certified coach after completing the BWF Level 2 Coaching Program. Currently, he is the national coordinator of the Shuttle Time Program. When questioned about the state of badminton currently as a result of COVID-19, Mr. Dorji agreed with his General Secretary, that overall, not much has been affected. However, during the lockdown period, Mr. Dorji initiated virtual programs with participants across the country especially with the Shuttle Time tutors. During the lockdown, he was giving refresher courses for our tutors and national players and was engaged in giving instructional courses through tutors and players. We asked whether it was different than usual because they didn’t train face to face and he agreed, “It’s more of sharing knowledge, rules and regulations, and laws of badminton.”
Like previously mentioned, despite Bhutan being a relatively small country, the growth of badminton has been astounding, greatly due to the work of Mr. Tshering, Mr Dorji, the other coach, and the countless tutors from programs such as Shuttle Time. Despite the great success, they still have many things they’d like to achieve and bigger dreams to look forward to. Mr. Dorji tells us their main goal: “Our main goal is to make badminton a very popular sport as it’s gaining popularity right now. If you go to different districts, you can see people playing outdoors, on the street etc. I would say that making the sport more popular is our main goal. If you make it popular, there would definitely be more talented players.”
Mr. Tshering further adds on this “Once we produce talented players, then younger kids will look up to them, and be inspired by them to play badminton. Once these groups of players can showcase their talents outside and inside the country, definitely the development of badminton in our country will be enormous. For example, if we are able to have one talented player do well in the South Asian tournament, then this would be an ice breaker for badminton in Bhutan.” Last year, Bhutan saw a bit of success and great progress when they achieved a bronze medal in the South Asia U-21 event in Maldives. “These kids have created a history in Bhutan Badminton, bringing a bronze medal home. We have applauded them and are training hard.” Both Mr. Tshering and Mr. Dorji hoped to further this success and gain more momentum but they also mentioned that by only having two coaches, they may not be able to improve their player’s talent as much as they want to. “That’s why we are strategizing, and trying to hire outside coaches who can give proper training. Our two coaches are very good, but beyond that we need to hire an experienced coach from outside.”
They hope that with greater resources they can further their goals, and just before the COVID-19 lockdown period, they mentioned that they started to develop their 5 year strategic plan: Roadmap for 2022-2024. “Within this roadmap we have 2 goals” Mr. Tshering shares, “That is first, achieving good results in the 2022 South Asian Games. Right now we cannot compete with the world right now because we are still under the developing process, so we have decided to move forward more slowly. And second, In 2024, there is the Paris Olympics, and our target is to qualify for the Olympics.”
They hope to achieve this in the coming years through continuing with the programs they have in the country and also continuing to utilize their social media such as Facebook to help spread the knowledge and joy of badminton. With this they want to try to take badminton itself and the tournaments outside of the capital city so other people from other remote areas can participate.
But the most important thing, they said, has always been about building a foundation first. It’s about establishing badminton as a main sport in the country. “It’s about continuing to develop the roadmap for the federation.” said Mr. Dorji “Yeah, we don’t want to rush” Mr. Tshering adds. By building a foundation, more people will understand the joy and impact that playing badminton can have in one’s life. It’s not just about playing a sport, but about living happily and healthily with the community around us.