Ti­bet aims high, seeks pro soc­cer sta­tus

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By XU WEI and PALDEN NYIMA in Lhasa

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.

AFP

A mem­ber of the Lhasa Pure­land Foot­ball Club kicks the ball on a soc­cer field in Lhasa, the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, in Septem­ber.

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