VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – From the Himalayan mountains doorstep to the foot of the Rockies, the Tibet Women’s Soccer Team is gearing up to make its international debut in Vancouver this weekend.
The team will take part in the Vancouver International Soccer Festival, a multicultural, friendly tournament designed to foster community and quash discrimination. The event also marks the first time a Tibetan women’s sports team has played internationally.
“Soccer is my passion and through the soccer I’m very glad that I’m here in Vancouver,” said Tsering Lhamo, 20, who has been with the team for six years.
The 14 young women, who are all Tibetan refugees living in India or Nepal, were initially supposed to be the special guests of the Dallas Cup, an international youth soccer tournament in Texas, but their visa applications were denied by the American government.
In the shadow of US president Donald Trump’s travel ban, the team’s story spread across the globe and eventually reached the ears of Vancouver festival organizers who invited them to come to Canada.
The team raised money online through individual donations to attend the festival.
The tournament isn’t the team’s only connection to Canada. Lush Cosmetics has funded the team through their Charity Pot grant, which helps organizations who promote environmental protection, human rights and animal protection. The team’s message of equality and empowering women is what caught the company’s attention in 2012, according to Lush representatives.
Learning the team was coming to Canada, the company jumped at the opportunity to organize a visit and play a casual game with the team on Wednesday afternoon.
“To play soccer, for me it’s about bonding and connecting with people and I also feel that it’s about leadership qualities and personality, because whatever we do we have to do it with confidence,” Lhamo said.
Lhamo says her parents support her soccer efforts, but some girls on the team don’t have the same parental support either because of separation or conservative cultural values which discourage women from playing sports.
Tibet is considered a region of China since the Chinese army invaded in 1951 and exiled the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, in 1959. Since then, thousands of Tibetans have fled to avoid the Chinese government’s monitoring and restriction.