By Tendar Tsering
Baichung Bhutia adorns the new official Tibetan National Football Team jersey during the opening ceremony of the GCM Gold Cup Saturday, May 26, 2012 in Dharamshala. (Phayul photo/Norbu Wangyal).
DHARAMSHALA, May 27: Indian football icon and former captain, Baichung Bhutia kicked off the 18th edition of the most popular Tibetan football tournament, the Gyalyum Chemo Memorial Gold Cup yesterday afternoon in the exile Tibetan headquarters of Dharamshala.
“I am glad and honoured to be here to see Tibetan footballers play,” Baichung said at the inaugural function. “Tibetan professional football players are leading the game in India – one Tibetan named Karma is playing with Pune FC and another named Tenzin is my football club (United Sikkim FC).”
The most decorated Indian footballer went on to invite the Tibetan national team to play with his club.
“My club is just one year old, it is growing, and I want the Tibetan football team to come to Sikkim and play with us, so that we can learn from each other,” Baichung said.
While acknowledging the effort put in by the Tibetan National Sports Association, the organisers of the event, Baichung said that he was “jealous” of all the players who are playing in Dharamshala – a place “blessed” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
“Unfortunately, His Holiness is not in town but anyhow, next time I would love to come back along with my family to get His Holiness’ blessings,” Baichung said.
The former Indian captain was accompanied by former New Zealand footballer Tim Brown at the inaugural ceremony.
In 2008, during the pan-Tibet peaceful uprisings, Baichung had declined from carrying the Beijing Olympics torch, during the Indian leg of its rally.
When asked about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Tibet, Baichung expressed his sadness and concern.
“It is sad, very, very sad, the human rights violation in Tibet by the Chinese government,” Baiching said. “The martyrs are burning themselves but I don’t encourage them. I think His Holiness also won’t encourage.”
Baichung Bhutia (R), Indian football icon and former captain, Tim Brown (C), former New Zealand footballer and Kalsang Dhondup (L), executive secretary of Tibetan Naitonal Sports Association at the press conference at Dharamshala on May 26, 2012. (Phayul photo/Norbu Wangyal)
When reporters asked him about his long-time association with the Tibetan cause, the former Indian captain said that his ancestors were from Tibet.
“I was born and bred in Sikkim and the Tibetans and Sikkimese people share the same culture and script. In fact, my sister-in-law is a Tibetan.”
This year, 19 teams are vying for the most coveted football honours in the exile Tibetan community.
The tournament had a breezy start with the first ever exhibition match between the Kangra women’s foot ball team and Tibetan National Women’s foot ball Team.
The newly born Tibetan Women’s football team beat the local Indian team by two goals.