Berlin — In the first known meeting of Tibetan and Chinese athletes since 1959, women from the two countries will gather alongside football teams from a variety of nations in the Discover Football International Women's Football Cultural Festival, in Berlin, Germany. However, due to the festival's format, the two contingents could find themselves playing alongside each other, rather than on opposing teams.
The Discover Football Festival is a late June 28th through July 5th event that seeks to be more than an athletic competition. On its website, the host organization (Discover Football) bills itself as "the world's leading network that use football as a tool to advocate for a world in which girls and women can do sports without being discriminated against for any reason." It strives to reach across the board on issues related to international women's athletic competitions. Thus, Discover Football simultaneously "challenges gender roles by increasing diverse images of strong women in the media," while it also "creates a powerful international network" of women football players and leaders.
As one manifestation of the official theme, "Beyond Borders," the Festival adopts a unique approach to the competition itself: the players from each nation are divided, and new teams assemble. The result is a tournament in which players find themselves working together with women from myriad international backgrounds in their on-field efforts. This represents a shift from the traditional relationship between Tibet and China, which has remained extremely contentious over more than 50 years. Indeed, governments and international organizations from around the globe continue to denounce the Chinese Government for its ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet.
The Tibetan delegation consists of seven Tibetan players, their coach Gompo Dorjee, and Cassie Childers from the United States. Childers currently kickstarted Tibet Women's Football in 2011, and now serves as the program manager. The players are Phuntsok Dolma (team captain), Sherab Dolma, Yandan Lhamo, Tenzin Norzom, Tenzin Dasel, Sonam Palyang, and Tenzin Yangzom. Due to tight Chinese control of Tibet, Tibet Women's Football bases itself in the India-based Tibetan refugee community, through which it recruits its players.
The Discover Football Festival also marks the first time in known history that female Tibetan athletes have traveled abroad to represent Tibet at a sporting event, sources report. In order to prepare for the occasion, the team has worked both on and off the pitch. The seven women have trained in public speaking and communication, in order to maximize this opportunity for sports diplomacy.
The Tibet Women's Football mission – even though only a few years old – is one which seeks "to inspire in the girls and women of the Tibetan refugee community a new sense of pride in themselves and hope for their futures." The organization recognizes football is a means to something more: "Soccer (football) is simply the tool by which we frame and deliver lessons and experience focused on these themes."
The players, coach, and manager are all available for press comments via email: teamtibet(at)hotmail(dot)com.