|Members of the Tibet Women's Soccer Team.|
THE EVER-SHIFTING and uneven enforcement of who can, and cannot, enter the U.S. has claimed another victim: The Tibet Women's Soccer team.
Fifteen players of a Tibetan women’s soccer team have been refused U.S. visas as guests of a Texas tournament, raising questions about what policy Donald Trump will take toward the contested region.
The team, Tibet Women’s Soccer, made up of refugees living in India and Nepal, had planned to take part in this spring’s Dallas Cup tournament for young players,. The tournament has a tradition of inviting players from other countries to promote diversity. In the past, it has hosted a Catholic-Protestant team from Ireland and a Muslim-Jewish team from Israel.
Cassie Childers, the executive director and one of the coaches of Tibet Women's Soccer and a U.S. citizen, accompanied the group of 16 players for interviews at the embassy on Feb. 24. Most of the team members are refugees (18 to 20-years old) from Tibet, which China claims is a protectorate of the Peoples' Republic of China.
After a few questions of each player, Embassy officials in Delhi told he players that they did not merit permission to take the 10-day trip. Childers said the only explanation given: ‘You have no good reason to travel to the USA."
“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.”
In response to media inquiries, the State Department said that it could not comment on individual visa applications, nor on the Trump administration’s policy toward Tibet, an autonomous region with a history of strained relations with China.
Tibetans have a difficult time getting U.S. visas because the American government is afraid that once in the U.S., Tibetans would request asylum.
“They weren’t trying to immigrate,” Childers told The Guardian. “They were trying to play soccer.”
Complicating the situation was that Tibet Women's Soccer is a charity and does not officially represent the Tibetan government-in-exile, explained the Tibetan National Sports Association.
"TNSA is the only sports authority recognized by the Tibetan government, and all invitations to our official teams are processed through the relevant TNSA and government authorities," the TNSA stated. "We did not know about the invitation from Dallas."
Upon hearing about the girls' difficulties, the Dallas Cup issued a statement clarifying that the Dallas Cup is a tournament for boys and the Tibetan team was never going to compete in the tournament. The invitation to Dallas and to participate in related activities was at the behest of Dallas is Diversity, the charitable arm of the tournament.
"If (the Tibetans visit is) not possible in 2017, then we hope the girls can realize their dream of visiting the North Texas area at some point in the future," said the statement.
Childers said that the team’s invitation to the tournament was “a dream come true” for the players, and although initially disappointed, they are all right.
"The players are very positive. I was very dejected but they motivated me, said Childers. "I hope some other place will invite us where Tibetans are welcomed."
“The U.S. had an opportunity to play host to one of the most inspiring groups of young women on this planet today,” Childers, wrote on a fundraising page. “The United States of America failed today. Utterly.”