History & General Information:
In 2011, Tibet Women’s Football (TWF) introduced a formal football (soccer) training program to the female members of the Tibetan refugee community in India in order to improve their quality of life, provide tools for empowerment and foster a connection among female athletes worldwide. TWF aims to facilitate the expansion of the female Tibetan voice, nurture the idea that Tibetan women possess the talent and capabilities equivalent to men, forge the bonds of sisterhood and provide an arena in which they can safely experiment with these new developments. Tibet Women’s Football does not rely solely upon football to provide the education needed to promote self-confidence, gender equality and development of voice – it provides a professional, well-rounded curriculum of leadership, team building, gender equality, health and communication complimenting all its football training sessions as well. Football is simply the tool by which TWF frames and delivers lessons and experiences focused on these themes.
This program will create the opportunity for any Tibetan female who desires to participate in the sport of football. In its first full year the program has been extended to nine Tibetan schools throughout India, which allows 180 adolescent girls to play competitively and exposes an additional 6,000 girls to the possibility of participating later. With proper funding, in TWF’s second year it can expand to include more Tibetan schools (there are approximately 70), and form more teams for different age groups, until all girls are exposed to the opportunity to play, leading to the eventual formation of Tibet’s first women’s national sports team.
This program was first conceived by Cassie Childers, an American teacher and life-long football player, in 2010. During World Cup fever, while Cassie was visiting Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees, she attended an exhibition showcasing the history of Tibetan football. She realized that she was the only female in the large hall. Shocked, a Tibetan friend pointed her in the direction of Mr. Kalsang Dhondup, Executive Secretary of the Tibet National Sports Association. They wondered if by introducing football to the females of the community, they could possibly affect much bigger change, change that is greatly needed. One month later, Cassie was extended the invitation to come and start a football program for girls. Now TNSA & Cassie work in partnership to implement this program in the Tibetan exile community, which has already revolutionized the way the public views and values girls and women.
TWF conducted a community survey before beginning its first programs in Fall, 2011. The results demonstrated evidence of some doubt in the community that Tibetan girls would play football well, or would even be interested in playing at all. However, 94% of those surveyed expressed support for the program anyway, and highlighted the importance of working towards forming a Tibetan women’s national team.
In November 2011 TWF brought coaches from nine Tibetan schools in India to headquarters in Dharamsala where it held a one-week training session specifically designed to prepare the participants to coach girls from a holistic perspective. The workshop was attended by 18 Tibetan coaches, and implemented by an ex-professional player from Europe, a sports psychologist from New Delhi, two sports physiotherapists also from New Delhi, a yoga master and a goalkeeping trainer from the USA.
In January 2012, three girls from each school were chosen to attend a one-month football camp. TWF’s goal was to provide the participants with the framework, vocabulary and environment via which they could start to reflect upon and process their lives as never before. In addition to football training two hours each day, participants did yoga, strength training, and distance running. For two additional hours each day, a curriculum of leadership training, teambuilding, health, gender study and communication was implemented. TWF observed remarkable results. The ‘classroom’ time served as a psychological/intellectual spark to inspire new ways of thinking and working together. The physical activities – most importantly football – served as the tool through which the girls could explore their newly evolving identities. They arrived as quiet, insecure girls, lacking a strong sense of identity. Four weeks later each one left with a new sense of who she was and who she wanted to become.
TWF’s recent captains’ training camp proved that not only could Tibetan girls play football well, and learn to quickly, but that they could love the sport. On the last day of the camp TWF organized a very well-attended exhibition game for them to showcase their new skills, and when the whistle blew at the end, the tears on the girls’ faces said it all. They loved football, and it was apparent they felt the overwhelming transformation that it had brought to their lives. The community is now embracing the program, and TWF organizers are often approached by strangers on the street thanking them for their work.
In March 2012, the girls from the training camp became the captains of the new teams formed at each school, led by the coach TWF trained last November. Each of the nine teams is currently training six days per week, and will soon begin to compete in friendly matches with neighboring schools in preparation for an end-of-season tournament in October.
Thus far TWF has received substantial publicity for its efforts. The program was featured in three separate articles published in The Times of India, the number one daily news outlet in the nation, with one landing on the front page. TWF programs have also been covered by The Hindustan Times, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and several international freelance reporters. An American documentarian has recently finished filming a short film featuring one of our first female participants and her journey as a new football player, set to be completed by August 2012, commissioned by the International Center for Mental Health and Human Rights. Continued interest from the media is testament to TWF’s strong start and groundbreaking status in the local community and in India as a whole.
On May 26th, on the opening day of the 2012 Gyalum Chemo Memorial Gold Cup, the Tibetan men’s tournament, TWF’s first female ‘Tibetan Select’ squad will compete in an exhibition match against the Indian Himachal Pradesh state team. This, TWF’s true public debut, is set to make history in the Tibetan community.
The programs implemented by Tibet Women’s Football aim to address these issues by providing vital tools for empowerment inherently found in competitive sports. Tibetan women do not have much opportunity to express themselves, represent themselves or enjoy themselves. As a result, the idea of Tibet Women’s Football was conjured to address these innate human needs. Through TWF, Tibetan women will be able to express themselves physically, socially, and recreationally. They will be able to represent their schools, their settlements and their nation, and most importantly, they will finally be given the opportunity to have some fun.
TWF has already observed a shift in attitude towards women within the Tibetan refugee community. Whereas before most Tibetan males assumed girls’ sports were obsolete, as measured in a community survey, TWF has already observed a greater level of respect arise, particularly in the male classmates of the girls who participated in our training camp. TWF expects this trend to continue and spread into additional aspects of life, advancing women’s human rights and encouraging better representation in the community and the government-in-exile. TWF is certain that as program participants mature, we will observe them speaking out more frequently and utilizing their unique talents in all areas of their educations and careers, thereby developing a stronger belief in themselves and their power as women, and influencing, perpetually, the younger generations.
Within five years, the first Tibetan women’s national sports team will compete on the international stage, which will be a remarkable moment in the history of Tibet. When this event takes place, it has the potential to promote peace and awareness of the Tibetan cause and to be utilized as a form of female-led, non-violent assertion that Tibet is an independent nation under occupation of China.