The Tibetan Women’s Soccer team sent shockwaves through international media earlier this week after their visas to travel to the United States to participate in an April soccer tournament were denied.
But Penpa Tsering, the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Office of Tibet, in Washington, D.C., told Tricycle in an email interview that the individual case might be a “one off.”
“I don’t think so,” Tsering responded when asked if the denial raised concerns about Tibetan refugees who hold Indian Identity Certificates traveling to the U.S. since President Donald Trump has taken office.
When asked whether the new American administration caused concern among Tibetan refugees who hhold Indian Identity Certificates and plan to travel to the U.S., Tsering answered, “I don’t think so.” He added that the Office of Tibet was not involved in organizing the team’s visit although he himself was invited to the event in Dallas.
“Since it is already in the press, I do not know how the visa authorities will react,” Tsering said.
The Tibetan Women’s Soccer team was started in 2010 in Dharamsala, India, as a way for Tibetan women living in exile to “express themselves physically and recreationally,” according to the organization’s website. The team, which has engaged 3,000 young Tibetan women since its founding, became an independent organization in 2015. The team played its first national tournament in Germany that year.
Cassie Childers, executive director of the Tibetan Women’s Soccer team, wrote on a crowdfunding page that the team had been “invited to attend the Dallas Cup, the most prestigious boys’ tournament in the world, as VIP guests, and to lead the opening day procession into the Cotton Bowl stadium under the Tibetan flag. They were to be the first sports team representing Tibet on U.S. soil.”
The team recorded a video shortly after leaving the U.S. embassy, where, Childers said, they were told they had “no good reason” to travel to the U.S. for the April tournament.
The Associated Press reported that 14 of the 16 players who were applying for the visas had Indian Identity Certificates, which function as passports even though they are for Tibetan refugees and not Indian citizens. The other two members of the team have Indian passports.
After five days, the online fundraising campaign to recoup the team’s costs has far surpassed the $5,000 that the team had spent on the visa applications.
Ganden Thurman from New York City’s Tibet House, the Dalai Lama’s seat in the United States, said the visa issue hasn’t affected any operations at the cultural organization beyond “nervousness and uncertainty.”
Thurman said a group of monks set to construct a mandala at Tibet House recently returned to India and are concerned about re-entering the U.S.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters