Tibet aims high, seeks pro soccer status
At a rundown stadium in Lhasa in the Tibet autonomous region, a small group of fans watched two teams battle it out in an amateur soccer match that lacked neither intensity nor thrills.
Fullback Losang Tashi charged up and down the field, making deft passes and intelligent runs, with the occa- sional tackle thrown in for good measure.
“I definitely will give it my all in that game,” the 29-yearold schoolteacher said before the weekend match. “I once dreamed that I would represent Tibet at the national level someday, and that desire has never died in me.”
Losang has been playing nonleague soccer since he graduated from college. He is a member of the Lhasa Pure- land Football Club, which is made up of about 20 players, though the number varies at games because of their amateur status. They play in league games sponsored by local authorities and the China Amateur Football League.
The club has a doctor but there is no dressing room at the stadium. Still, both the local authorities and the soccer club harbor much bigger ambitions.
According to a plan issued by the Tibet regional government recently on soccer and basketball development, more investment is set to be pumped into the two sports. No specific amount was set.
“The long-term goal is for there to be widespread public participation in soccer and basketball after 2026,” said Losang Dorje, an official with the competitive sports division
of Tibet’s regional Department of Sports.
It is hoped that in that future, clubs from Tibet will be able to play in the highest tier of professional soccer in China, the China Super League, with Tibetan players also being selected for the country’s national teams.
The plan calls for more coaches, referees and other support staff to be trained over the next five years. A school league system, which will offer students more opportunities to play, is also in the pipeline, as is a regional youth team.
Tsetan Dorje, president of the Lhasa Pureland club, sees the newly unveiled soccer development plan as a major boost for morale. “The Tibetan people have an inherent love for soccer games. Many Tibetan children love playing, but the lack of professional training has made it impossible for them to become professional players,” he said.
One factor working against the development of soccer in Tibet is the region’s high altitude, which makes it difficult for un-acclimated players to exert themselves for 90 minutes. Lhasa is about 3,700 meters above sea level.
Tsetan has made a number of requests for the China Football Association to register his team in Division Two, the lowest tier of China’s league system. However, his attempts have been unsuccessful.
“It would give us a platform to proceed with more professional operations,” he said, adding that turning pro- fessional would help recruit local talent.
Tenzin Norbu, a teacher at a mountaineering school who plays forward with Pureland, said the players receive a subsidy of only 2,000 to 4,000 yuan ($290 to $580) per season from the club.
“We definitely would want a pay raise. But it is not about the money. It is about our love for the game,” he said.
A member of the Lhasa Pureland Football Club kicks the ball on a soccer field in Lhasa, the Tibet autonomous region, in September.