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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Tibetan footballers aim for Europe

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Delhi

A team of Tibetan footballers are due to leave for Europe soon.

Tibetan footballers
Football is now "the favourite sport" of Tibetans
The 22-strong squad, named the Tibetan National Football Association, is made up of exiles living in Nepal and India.

They say they are not going to Europe to push for an independent Tibet, but to learn footballing skills.

But the tour has already hit problems. France and Switzerland have refused to grant them visas.

As a result, the only games fixed so far are in Denmark.

The team manager, Kalsang Dhondup, said he hoped the world football authority, Fifa, would recognise them, so they could play in the 2008 Olympics in China.

Still learning

For most of these players, the prospect of a European tour is an opportunity they will want to grab with both hands, even though their skills and experience do not match their European counterparts.

"It is the favourite sport of the Tibetans, and drawing up a team from refugees like us was a great job done by our sports authorities," said team captain Tenzing Dargyhl.

Tibetan footballers
The players have had visas refused
Three of the team members are from Pokhra in Nepal, while the others are from the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

"I feel honoured to play for Tibet, though we do not have a land to call our own," Mr Darghyl told the BBC.

He said that football was a way of bringing Tibetans together from lots of different places.

Tsetan Namgyhl, a resident of Nepal, said more and more young Tibetans were playing football and hopefully, one day, they would be recognised as a good team.

The selection of the team was held in Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh, where the Dalai Lama has his Tibetan government-in-exile.

It is not ideal football territory, lying in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

"Fifteen teams play in one ground since we do not have many grounds to play in Dharamsala," one player told the BBC.

Tibetan footballers
The players have trained next to Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru stadium
The hopes of the team rest on striker Loshan Lobo.

The coach of the team, Thupden Chambel, believes Mr Lobo will go a long way in his career, since his speed and skills are good.

"But we need trained coaches and physical trainers to improve the performances of our team," Mr Chambel said.

This is going to be the third foreign tour for the Tibetan team.

But it will be their first under the official banner of the Tibetan National Football Association and the Tibetan National Sports Association, which were formed two years ago, according to team manager Kalsang Dhondup.

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