It's not merely soccer for them
By Vineeta Pandey

NEW DELHI: They might be leaving for an international tournament without much hype, yet the Tibetan football team is getting all that attention it should have got. There is definitely no step-motherly treatment from the Indian side, the Tibetan assistant coach Kalsang Dhondup feels. "The Indian have been very co-operative throughout." Dhondup says, there is no complain even if they have got no ground and support in terms of infrastructure from the country they are staying in. Yet, the morale is high. Because the 'Tibetan national team (in exile) 'is stepping out for recognition.

"It will be first time that the Tibetan national team will be playing against any country," Dhondup stresses. The Tibetan team is on its way to a month's tour of Denmark where they play 'private matches' against Greenland an a Copenhagen suburb.

"We would not have got so much of attention had China not raised the issue with FIFA and asked them to stop us. Thanks to the Danish media who raised the issue in their country and fought for us, otherwise those too would have been a quiet tour like the previous one." Dhondup says. The earlier outing wad exhibition match against the Italian Rock Group, in 1999. But at that tome the idea was to promote the Tibetan issue. During their eight-day stay, the side gained a lot in terms of experience as the rock group had some good players with them. "The response was great in Italy, " Dhondup recollects. And that was actually the turning point which made them think that they can very well play against a nation too.
Back in India, they formed a sports federation, got it registered here and held trails in Bylakuppe, near Mysore, where they have a large part of their community staying. The only regular football tournament Gyalyum Chemo Memorial Gold Cup, in the memory of Dalai Lama's late mother-is very popular and was taken seriously by the players.

"The information for the trials was circulated in our Tibetan bulletins and the response was tremendous," the coach said. While Tibetan players from Nepal and Indian assembled in Dharamsala, the ones in Europe too expressed eagerness to play.

Thus, based on information from their community in Europe, the team in India was pruned down to 13 while the eight will join the side in Denmark. The average age of the players 20-23 years and oldest player they have is their handicapped captain Phuntsok Dorjee, a former paratrooping instructor in the Tibetan army. Nothing has shaken their determination even if they have no sponsors to take care of the monetary needs. For the time being its the Tibetan Children's Village school that have chipped in with about three lakh rupees and the rest will be taken care of by the host Denmark.

Things hopefully won't end here only for the Tibetan footballers. They are planning to take part in tournaments in India and will request the All-India Football Federation to allow them to compete in their tournaments. Besides football, basketball os also being promoted in a big way and the Tibetan Sports Federation is planning to shift their office in Delhi with the hope that sports will serve as a great healer for them.