Tibet women's soccer team denied US travel visas

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2017 2:49 AM

A Tibet women's soccer team has been denied U.S. visas to participate in a tournament in Dallas.

Cassie Childers, a coach and executive director for Tibet Women's Soccer, said that 16 members of the team were told at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, that they "have no good reason to visit the U.S.," during their visit on Feb. 24. They were seeking travel visas to participate in the Dallas Cup soccer tournament scheduled to take place April 9-16

Childers, who is from New Jersey, said in an email from India that embassy officials did not glance at the documents nor provide any other reasons or explanations.

All but two of the 16 who visited the embassy hold Indian Identity Certificates, which are issued by the Indian government for Tibetan refugees. They function as passports even though they do not represent citizenship to India. The other two, which includes the head coach, hold Indian passports.

Four players, who live in Nepal and have Nepal passports, had interviews in Kathmandu on Feb. 4. Childers said those cases were put under administrative processing and they have not heard a final decision.

"There is no opportunity for them to defect, and the thought of shaming themselves, their team, and their country in that way sickens them," Childers said. "This is not an anonymous soccer team that no one would notice if they never came back."

A State Department official said they do not discuss the details of individual visa cases. The records are confidential under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The official did say that the U.S. Government's position on Tibet has not changed under the Trump administration and that they recognize Tibet to be part of the People's Republic of China. Tibet is not one of the seven countries affected by the administration's travel ban on Muslim-majority nations.

The team from Tibet participated in a tournament in Germany two years ago without any issues obtaining visas. But Childers has since parted with the Tibetan National Sports Association and runs Tibet Women's Soccer as a registered charity in New Jersey. The latest visa situation may be related to confusion over sanctioning.

"Cassie Childers' team is neither recognized by the TNSA nor by the Tibetan government-in-exile. Even though the players in her team are Tibetan, the team does not officially represent Tibet," TNSA executive secretary Kelsang Dhondup said in a telephone interview. "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. We did not know about the invitation from Dallas."

Childers said the Dallas Cup organizing committee was sponsoring the tour, including flights, accommodations, gear and activities. The team was scheduled to lead the procession during the opening ceremony at the Cotton Bowl, then play three exhibition matches against local teams during the week.

The trip was also scheduled to include sightseeing, visits to Southern Methodist University and local high schools.

In the past, the tournament has staged similar events for an Israeli-Palestinian team, a mixed South African team, a mixed Protestant-Catholic Irish team, and a team from Iraq. Childers said they were set to become the first sports team of any sex to represent Tibet in the United States.

"This is an event of historical proportions for Tibetans throughout the diaspora. This is the biggest opportunity of these young women's lives," Childers said. "It's an even bigger opportunity for the United States to play host to one of the most inspiring teams in the world, who have overcome so much just for the right to kick a ball."

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Associated Press writer Ashwini Bhatia contributed to this report from Dharamsala, India