Tibet’s first football club aims at unity, struggles for Chinese players


Lhasa (AFP) – Green jersey soaked with sweat, midfielder Luosang Sanzhu practises his passing on the manicured pitch of Lhasa FC, Tibet’s first football club — the latest gambit to soothe lingering tensions between Tibetans and Han Chinese.

Officials hope the highest club in China, which was established last year, can break down barriers in the mountainous region, where relations with Beijing have sometimes been strained since its “peaceful liberation” in 1951.

“In the club today, there’s no discrimination. The atmosphere is great,” said Tibetan player Luosang, a former gym teacher who has emerged as one of the team’s leading lights.

One problem: at 3,700 metres (12,140 feet) above sea-level, altitude sickness is a constant hazard for non-Tibetans — and is deterring Han Chinese players.

“Recruiting them is difficult,” admitted club president Cidan Duoji, an ethnic Tibetan. “They think that it’s dangerous to play football here because of altitude sickness.”

Native Tibetans have adapted over generations to the lack of oxygen at high altitudes, which can cause headaches, vomiting, insomnia, or fatigue, and makes playing sports difficult for outsiders.

Consequently, only 10 percent of Lhasa FC’s squad are Han Chinese, although members of the ethnic group are numerous elsewhere in the regional capital, which sits on the Tibetan Plateau.

“Lhasa FC… is a place of cultural exchange for the two communities,” said Cidan, surrounded by the club’s red mascots. “We want to show that Tibet can also be a place for sports,” he added.

– Troubled past –

The club’s stadium may be one of the most remote in China but it is also among the most picturesque, with its main stand facing the snowy peaks of the Himalayas.

The tranquil setting belies a troubled past. 

Beijing reaffirmed control over Tibet in 1951 after four decades of de facto independence for the Himalayan territory. 

Since then, many ethnically Han Chinese immigrants — the country’s largest group by far — have moved to Tibet, where they remain a minority.

In 2008, demonstrations by Tibetan monks in Lhasa degenerated into deadly violence targeting Hans before being quelled. 

Many Tibetans accuse Beijing of exerting heavy control over their Buddhist religion, diluting their culture, and exploiting natural resources at the expense of the environment.

Although Lhasa FC lacks diversity on the pitch, the hope is that having a team in a national league will make Tibetans feel more integrated into China.

Lhasa FC currently play in China’s amateur league, the country’s fourth-tier football competition and a world away from the moneyed Chinese Super League with its millionaire players and tycoon owners.

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One Response

  1. Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad September 29, 2016

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