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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Playing ball gives Tibetans a sense of nationhood

June 9, 2009

The Times of India


7 Jun 2009


Siddharth Saxena




DHARAMSALA: Watching football in Dharamsala could give you vertigo. But for
the Tibetans, it provides a high. It's the time of year when monks become
converts to soccer, discarding pious solemnity, if not their robes, as they
head in search of the global game.




The arena at the Tibetan Children Village School could rival the Bombonera -
Boca Juniors' famously steep 'Chocolate Box' stadium - but theirs is a
terrace chant with a difference. Here, the clash of cymbals, not confetti,
cascades from the rock-cut terraces of the school ground nestled in the
Shivaliks. Chhang, the local brew, is passed freely from hand to hand. The
air has the unmistakable smell of dope.




Below, in the dusty gravelly pitch, the 15th edition of the Gyalyum Chemo
Memorial Gold Cup is being played out - serious business for Tibetans from
1981. Instituted in the memory of the Dalai Lama's mother, the GCMGC (as it
is called by Tibetans the world over) is the one unifying sporting meet for
Tibetans in exile.




"Tibetans wait all year for this tournament. Apart from providing an outlet
for our love for football, it becomes a platform to present our identity. No
other sport can match this," says Dorji Tsering, the serious-minded captain
of the team from Chennai. A student of Literature at Chennai's MCC College,
22-year-old Tsering is leading a formidable Tibetan Students Association of
Madras team and is expected to make the finals of this unique knock-out




"Team-building is of great importance here, almost like a top-flight club,"
he says, adding that his team is made up of Tibetans from Hyderabad,
Bangalore and even Gwalior.




A breeding ground for Tibet's aspiring National football dream, the GCMGC
draws teams from as far afield as Nepal, Trichy, Chennai, Varanasi and even,
Goa. "We are trying to get a team of Tibetans based in Europe," says Kelsang
Dhundup, secretary of the Tibetan National Sports Association (TNSA), the
NGO entrusted with the task of running this tournament. "But assembling them
is a problem," he adds.




After 12 years of travelling all over India and Nepal, the tournament has
returned to the venue of its birth. This year, 18 teams - mainly comprising
college students on their summer break - have assembled at Dharamsala. The
10-day-long knock-out tournament is spaced so that the final on Tuesday,
doesn't clash with Sunday's Miss Tibet contest. An added draw is the local
team. The crowd has swelled for the 4 pm kick-off. A group of local theatre
artistes, who go by the name of Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA),
blend their operatic skills with slick football, drawing gasps of
appreciation from the crowd perched precariously all along the hilly




That TIPA is coached by the legendary Phuntsok Dorje, captain of Tibet's
first National team-in-exile, only adds to their appeal. In a famous symbol
of protest back in 2001, Dorje, who lost his left hand to frostbite while
escaping from Tibet, led the Tibetans in an 'international' tie against
Greenland. It kicked off a series of such visits to Europe and even
participation in the displaced people's World Cup in 2006 in Hamburg.




"Football is like opera," says TIPA director, Wangchuk Phasur, after his
team enters the quarter-finals, "and like opera, it has a plot and a
storyline". At the steep arena of the Tibetan Children Village School, opera
and football mix effortlessly to the tune of politics and social identity.
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