In 1971, a table tennis competition led to a meeting between the president of the United States, Richard Nixon, and China’s leader, Mao Zedong. Their talks led the two countries to normalize relations. This past weekend, a group of Chinese and exiled Tibetans played at a women’s soccer event in Germany. It was the first recorded meeting between Chinese and Tibetan athletes since the 1959 Lhasa rebellion against Chinese rule. It was also the first-ever trip by a Tibetan women’s sports team to another country.
Players from Shanghai Sports University and the Tibet Women’s Soccer program met last Sunday near part of the former Berlin Wall. The Tibet Women’s Soccer program is based in Dehradun, India. Cassie Childers is the team’s manager.
“It was a really amazing moment, and our Tibetan girls just ran to meet them, and started hugging them and greeting them. And the Chinese players were a little … they had this look of, this look of shock on their faces. I think they didn’t know there was going to be a team from Tibet here. They don’t know anything about what is going on inside Tibet. They didn’t understand why our girls are living as refugees in India. And the really amazing thing is they were open to listening to the stories – and now they know.”
Monday marked the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama. He has repeatedly called on China to permit greater self-rule in Tibet. There has been no official contact between the Chinese government and Tibet’s exile administration for five years.
In Berlin, Tibetan and Chinese athletes played side by side. There were three Tibetans and four Chinese on the team Sunday night. They won three-to-one in the finals.
The German Foreign Ministry and Discover Football jointly organized the competition. Lea Gölnitz is with Discover Football. She says it would have been very different to set up an event with a Chinese national team and a men’s team from Tibet. She says this shows that, in women’s football, there is more space to work around big political issues.
The competition took place at the same time as a women’s football conference called Beyond Borders. Players from 27 countries, including Afghanistan and Uganda, attended the conference. Discussions and training were held throughout the event. The conference included a meeting with German Prime Minister Angela Merkel.
For the delegate from Afghanistan, Beyond Borders provided her first chance to play football under open skies and in front of men and women. In many parts of the world, there are still restrictions on women playing in sport.
Yangdan Lhamo is a Tibetan player.
She says her team took a Tibetan flag with them for a photograph at the German parliament building. She says they wanted to show that Tibet is still a global issue.
VOA first reported on Tibetan women’s soccer two years ago. The discrimination against women still exists among sports administrators in the exile community.
Not long ago, Cassie Childers cut her ties to the Tibetan National Sports Association. She acted after the group’s executive chairman raised questions about the need for a women’s soccer team touring other countries.
Ivan Broadhead reported on this story from Berlin, Germany. Triwik Kurniasari adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
soccer – n. the American name for European football
athletes – n. persons who are good in sports
global – adj. involving the world