Fifteen players of a Tibetan women’s soccer team have been refused US visas to participate in a Texas tournament, raising questions about what policy Donald Trump will take toward the contested region.
The team, Tibet Women’s Soccer, had planned to take part in this spring’s Dallas Cup tournament for young players, and was invited by organizers to stay with local players in the tradition of several previous diversity programs, including a Catholic-Protestant team from Ireland and a Muslim-Jewish team from Israel.
On Friday, however, the players were told by US embassy officials in Delhi that they did not merit permission to take the 10-day trip.
“What they said is we don’t have strong reasons to go to Dallas,” said Jamyang Chotso, a team captain. “But I think this is not the reason for them to reject us. [We] think the reason is they think we might run away when we reach there.”
“For a footballer, football is not just a game,” she added. “Through football I can represent my country and through football I can inspire our girls.”
Most of the players were about 18 to 20 years old, said Cassie Childers, the team’s coach. India does not recognize the players as refugees from Tibet, she said, but as legal residents of India; four players are Nepali citizens.
Childers said that the team’s invitation to the tournament was “a dream come true” for the players, and their trip to the embassy was the culmination of weeks of paperwork, international flights and travel around India. Dallas Cup organizers had helped prepare a schedule of events and training, Childers met with consular officials in Washington DC, and four players had tense, inconclusive visa interviews in Kathmandu for the price of $160 an application.
Finally, the bulk of the team made it to Delhi, taking leave from schools and jobs, for the embassy interviews. Each one was rejected.
Yangdan Lhamo, one of the players, said she never thought the US would reject the team. “USA is one of the most famous countries in the world, an educated country, but they do so much to help uneducated people,” she said. “I feel very upset the USA rejected us.”
Lhamo and Chotso both said they still hoped to play in the US. “We really, really want to fulfill our dream. I still want to go,” Chotso said.
Lhamo added: “I still want to play there, because this is our only chance to represent our country in the greatest country on Earth.”
Childers said the experience left her feeling “disgusted” and “ashamed of my country”, noting that it cost the team $3,520 – half its yearly budget – plus travel expenses simply to apply. “They weren’t trying to immigrate,” she said. “They were trying to play soccer.”
The state department said it could not comment on individual visa applications, and did not immediately have a response about the White House’s policy toward Tibet, where Beijing quashed an uprising in 1959 and spent decades stifling the growth of Tibetan Buddhism and movements toward independence.
Barack Obama repeatedly angered Chinese officials by meeting with the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing has accused of fomenting violence. Trump similarly angered the Chinese government by having a phone call with the president of Taiwan, another region of contested sovereignty, though the president later accepted the “One China” policy.
Citing their experiences going into exile, Childers said that the women and girls on the team had survived worse tragedies, including separations from family, childhood journeys across mountains dressed only in ragged clothing, and growing up in a society dominated by men. But the rejection for a symbolic soccer tournament, she said, “is still kind of a tragedy for Tibet and for these players”.