Bhutan: At the bottom on top of the world

Nestled among the giant peaks of the Himalayas, there’s no denying Bhutan’s football team has been at the top of the world for longer than any other side.

    The Bhutanese squad can only train for six months a year

    But for this tiny kingdom it may be some time before its national side ever competes in the World Cup.

    With a current FIFA ranking of 190, even Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, admits his country has a mountain of work ahead before they can be a force on an international level. 

    "Our team got a lambasting in Kuwait, some 20 goals to zero," says Zimba, a former President of Bhutan’s Olympic Committee.

    "I was so embarrassed I wish the Earth would open up and bury me alive, I wanted to submit my resignation."

    The defeat in February of 2000 earned Bhutan an inglorious position in the football record books - that was until a year later when Australia walloped American Samoa 31-0, just days after thrashing Tonga 21-0.


    Football is not one of Bhutan's
    strengths admits the PM

    But even such a humiliating defeat has not diminished the Bhutanese passion for football - not surprising in a place where success is measured by "Gross National Happiness" (quite literally, how happy people are) rather than material or financial wealth.

    Quite frankly, Bhutan is happy to even be out on the pitch; at least for six months of the year.

    "In winter we simply can't play, there's too much snow," explains Jigme, Bhutan’s national captain. "We need the finance to play outside of Bhutan."

    Closed off to the rest of the world for centuries, it's only been in the last decade that Bhutanese have been exposed to many aspects of western culture. The introduction of television in 1999 has meant Bhutan now follows international football with same obsession as many fans worldwide.

    The 2002 World Cup was the first glimpse most Bhutanese had seen of international football. "Everyone was glued to the television, even monks!" says Prime Minister Zimba.

    'Other final'

    Coach Khare Basnet (r) puts his
    players through their paces

    This year's tournament is expected to prove even more of a hit, with many predicting it will be the most watched television event ever in Bhutan.

    Enthusiasm is one aspect of the game Bhutan certainly does not lack.

    While Germany and Brazil were battling it out for the world title four years ago, the Bhutanese decided to stage their own event.

    'The Other Final', held in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, was a play off for last place in the FIFA rankings.

    The clash of the minnows was a rare triumph for Bhutan, defeating Monserrat 4-0.

    Their success since has not been great. Nine losses and one draw from their last 10 games isn’t a flattering statistic.

    Divided loyalties

    Their last win of note was in April 2003, during a qualifier for the Asian Nations Cup against Guam, who currently languish at 203 in the FIFA rankings. The sides were evenly matched. Bhutan found the net on six occasions, Guam none. 

    "It’s a sport in which we aspire," chuckles Bhutan’s beaming Prime Minister.

    Bhutanese schoolkids back

    And it's no secret who they aspire to follow. On the day Aljazeera visited a training session we were greeted by a sea of red jerseys - not the blue of Bhutan’s national strip, but that of Liverpool FC.

    "I think England will win, they just have so many stars" predicts Jigme, Bhutan’s captain and goalkeeper, on the outcome of Germany 2006.

    Even the youngest of fans in Bhutan are obsessed with the big names of English football. "Beckham, Beckham, Beckham" is the standard cry when asked who their hero is.

    They may not have the same class of players, but for Bhutan - perched high in the world’s grandstand but low on the ranking rungs - the only way is up.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Visualising every Saudi coalition air raid on Yemen

    Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states have launched more than 19,278 air raids across Yemen.

    Lost childhoods: Nigeria's fear of 'witchcraft' ruins young lives

    Lost childhoods: Nigeria's fear of 'witchcraft' ruins young lives

    Many Pentecostal churches in the Niger Delta offer to deliver people from witchcraft and possession - albeit for a fee.

    Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

    Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?

    No, it wasn't because of WMDs, democracy or Iraqi oil. The real reason is much more sinister than that.