by Kiran Marahatta, New York
‘My family couldn’t afford for a TV set so, I used to go to my neighbor to watch television when the European League seasons were running.’ Jitu Basnet, a soccer referee from Bhutanese community, recalled his childhood memory when asked about his attachment with soccer. Jitu, a player turned referee, was born and raised in Bhutan but in 1990 ‘Lhotshampas’ a group of Nepali language speaking Bhutanese citizens deported from Bhutan during the ethnic cleansing carried out by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan, his family settled at a refugee camp in Eastern Nepal. ‘Life in the refugee camp was more than a panic, we spent almost 20 years, a shattered life, at a slam in the lack of enough food, safe water, sanitation, good school and source of income to survive,’ said a Nashville resident. Despite all hindrances, Jitu, a man of hope and never give up who dreamed of being a soccer star, continued playing soccer in the local club.
Jitu enjoyed a stardom in soccer when he was a local club’s hero, but it’s more than an interesting story how he turned himself into a soccer referee. Jitu, a fair play award winner, had been facing some wrong decisions from referee which cost high for his team. He saw his team was the victim in many games. In some case, he lost the final because of those kinds of decisions. Watching European leagues, he was confident on rules and standards, but he found very few applied in local games, seeing all infrequently, Jitu decided to transform his career into a referee. “He was an incredible player who believes in fair play that’s why he turned into a referee.” Said, Sukman Suhang, his long-time friend.
“I hold whistle at the regional game for the first time,” he recalled his debut, “I again proved lucky so that I got the opportunity to referee in the main games in a short history.” Jitu had already grown as a great referee while coming to the US in 2009. Not only a referee but also he was a backbone of Bhutanese Community League which has been continuing in the US. “Jitu is a highly dedicated referee who has magnificent knowledge of soccer; he can go far.” Said Tyler Ring, an assistant coach at Cameron College Tenessee
Jitu was a bit anxious about his career, which he had built with blood and sweat, after arriving in the US but he proved fortunate again.
It was the third day of his arriving in Kansas when he was roaming a park in the evening where youth players are scheduled to play football but that day children were playing outside because of the absence of their referee. There was a soccer academy. Hearing all this, Jitu proposed to the authority that he would love to be the referee if they trusted him. He described his histories and convinced him to handle the game in the perfect way.
Then, the journey geared up in the US soil, how lucky he is. Next day he received a call from the Academy had decided to confirm him as a referee. Jitu got the first license in the US; then he never looked back. “He was a footballer when I knew him,” Meena Basnet, Jitu’s spouse recalled the early days, “His passion was incredible”.
Refereeing in more than thousands of games, Jitu has established himself as a full-time referee who is considered an essential part to run Bhutanese Interstate Community Tournament that runs every year in the US. He is also involved in Bhutanese Cup Tournament that organizes in Nepal every year. Jitu not only plays the role of the referee but also bears the responsibility of management for that tournament. “He is the pioneer of the community soccer.” Said Bhurna Khawas, a co-referee from the community. Also, he has been performing in more than a thousand of college level games. “Jitu has incredible soccer knowledge; our players are happy to be coached by him.” Said Tent Tenhadam, Principle of Cameron College, Nashville.
Jitu has trained many soccer talents not only at the college but also in community level among them some of them have joined reputed soccer clubs of Major League soccer’s and Germany club, Bayern Munich.
Jitu has seen a bright future of soccer in the US. In his opinion investment is the most significant part of the development of soccer that’s why the US has invested an enormous amount on it. “Investment is the major backbone in the US, both in the club or college level.” He said, “the US has intended to win the men’s world cup as soon as possible.”
Jitu has traveled to many countries for refereeing the game. After watching talented kids in different parts of the world, he has conceptualized to establish a soccer academy in the retired life. “I am much more engaged in soccer; it’s in my blood and breath, can’t be parted with it.” Said Jitu “I want to establish a soccer academy for the young players.”
When asking about the dream, Jitu disclosed that he wanted to whistle in major league soccer, “When I wished in the US land I planted a dream to referee in Major Soccer League.” Jitu revealed.