A delegation from the Tibet Women’s Soccer program was invited to participate in the “Discover Football International Women’s Football Cultural Festival” in Berlin, Germany on June 27. The event, sponsored by the German government, brings together international football experts and teams from around the world to provide a forum for improving the sport and empowering women players. The website states that its goal is to “organize international exchanges, conferences and tournaments where women and girls build skills and share knowledge that will help them gain autonomy, mobility and power.”
The seven-member Tibetan delegation, their program manager (Cassie Childers), and their coach (Gompo Dorjee), gathered alongside over 100 fellow women football players from countries around the world, from China to Afghanistan. With a theme entitled “Beyond Borders,” the players are split up and mixed with other teams to encourage diplomacy through football.
This tournament is particularly significant for the Tibetan team, which is participating in the first known meeting of exile Tibetan and Chinese athletes since 1959. It is also the first time Tibetan women athletes have traveled abroad to represent Tibet at a major sporting event. The Tibetan delegation was greeted by high-level state officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Ambassador to Germany John Emerson.
Through the program, the players engage in numerous skill-building workshops and trainings ranging from self-defense classes to presentations on the history of sexism and racism in sports. The Tibet Women’s Soccer program, launched in 2011 in India, has provided over 1,000 young Tibetan refugee women and girls the opportunity to play football in exile.
The annual FIFA Women’s World Cup is being held this year in Canada, with the US and German teams competing for a place in the final match next month. Along with the recent protests over China’s bid for the 2015 Winter Olympics, the political status of disputed Chinese territories like Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have once again come to the forefront of international sports diplomacy.
The Discover Football initiative has been recognized by world leaders and institutions such as the United Nations and the German Football Association. This year’s tournament ends July 6.
Listen to the BBC World Service documentary to learn more about the Tibetan women’s football initiative.