Tibetans hope to make waves through soccer
By Khurram Habib
KALSANG DHONDUP says his players are like "crumbs gathered after wiping the table cover". Selecting and managing a football team from amongst the exiled can be an interesting and challenging experience, The executive secretary of the Tibetan National Sports Association points out.
The trauma of the exiled Tibetan probably has few parallels in world today and when Dhondup speaks, his eyes convey the agony and also the determination with which they are trying to fight the situation. Dhondup insists that sport is the best vehicle for expressing their views and getting their point across to the world.
Now in Delhi, displaying their rather amateurish skills at the Jawaharlal Nerhu Stadium at the 10 day camp, 22 Tibetan players are preparing for a trip to Europe. It will be their third sojourn to Europe. In 1999, they went to Italy on invitational tour and then in 2001, They played Greenland in Denmark.
"For some 1,20,000 odd Tibetans in India and 50,000 odd in Nepal, a soccer tour in manna. It is a rare opportunity that they would like grab, even though they might not be the best as far as talent and skills are concerned. It is like selecting the best of spirit and courage."
The team will first go to Switzerland, Where they will battle against their own Kin-the Tibetans settles there. Then they move on to France - a tour sponsored by Frenchman Marcade Thierry - and will play some lower level clubs. From there they proceed to Arhouse in Denmark, and play some clubs in a tournament that will be part of a cultural festival.
"The soccer trip in 1999 was our first sporting activity at world level. And pretty educative one too," says Dhondup. "The last time we visited Denmark in 2001 - we -played against Greenland. In many ways it can be called our first official tour. We had picked players from Tibetan Children's Village then," he adds.
Dhondup says that after the second trip they realised they needed an association, and the Tibetan National Football Association were formed. "Then, we started scouting for talents," he says.
Incidentally, their coach seems to be a makeshift one. They requested the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for Tibetan - Penpa Tsering who is coaching a special area group school in Sikkim. "But request was turned down by SAI. They said Tsering is required there".
So, They made Thupten Choephel, who had toured Europe in 2001 with previous team, as the coach.
There is also some apprehension over the team's visas. "The tour will be possible only if our applications for visa are accepted," says the team manager.
Dhodup would have preferred to have both their practice sessions at the main stadium, but they have been allotted the north side of the stadium for practice in the morning. "The middle there is slushy," he says. But he us not complaining much and says the planned tour is a "bold step" into the future.
"We have picked the team from Nepal and India under the aegis of the Tibetan National Football Association. Hopefully, some from this batch might just get chance to play for lower division European Clubs."
And China? "They are hosting Olympics in 2008. If we can graduate to the international level, that'll be a test for both - ours and theirs."