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International Debut for the Tibetan Women‘s Soccer Team

By Sarah Weber  /  July 31, 2017;

Photo: Tibet Women’s Soccer’s Facebook

This month the Tibetan women’s soccer team became the first female Tibetan team in any sport to compete internationally. On July 7 the squad of exiles, composed of 14 young women mostly aged between 18 and 20 and all refugees living in either India or Nepal, participated in the Vancouver International Soccer Festival (VISF) in Canada.

The tournament started with a friendly match against the Canadian National team, followed by games against Poland, Iran and Portugal. During the match against Iran, Api Ang became the first Tibetan woman to score an international goal. After the event, the team posted on Facebook: “Team Tibet showed the world today that they can play, they can compete, and that they are Tibetans”.

Photo: Tibet Women’s Soccer’s Facebook

Originally the team was scheduled to take part in the Dallas Cup in the United States in the spring but were denied tourist visas. The US Embassy in Delhi rejected the applications, stating that “the team had no good reason to travel to the USA.” The visa controversy attracted international attention and the Central Tibetan Administration clarified that the Tibetan National Sports Association, which gives official recognition to Tibetan sports teams, had disassociated itself from the Tibetan women’s soccer team. The association stated that it has its own women’s football team representing Tibet in various tournaments within India and abroad.

Despite the political issues and frictions Adri Hamael, founder of the Canadian VISF, decided to invite the women to represent Tibet in the tournament. He reasoned that as a multicultural, friendly tournament designed to bring together the community and squash discrimination, the invitation reinforced VISF’s core values of inclusion, respect and equality. And this is a message the Tibetan woman’s soccer team represents. “To play soccer for me is about bonding and connecting with people and I also feel that it is about leadership qualities and personality, because whatever we do we have to do it with confidence”, team player Tsering Lhamo declared.

The team were inspired to adopt His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s slogan “Never give up” when their initial setback ended with a wonderful opportunity. The team’s executive director Cassie Childers concluded: “As hard as the day was when we were denied US visa, this is the happy ending to our story”.

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