The Tibetan national team has gone into a month-long training camp after being invited for to compete in this year's All India Sheheed Durga Mal Football Tournament.
The invite is a massive fillip for a team that is predominantly comprised of players who have fled China, or from the wider Tibetan Diaspora. This year's Sheheed Durga Mal competition is the 25th event and is being staged in Dharamsala - home to Tibet's government in exile and the Dalai Lama himself. The competition kicks off on April 29 2013.
The Tibetan team are in training at SOS VTC Selakui near Dehradun in India as they prepare for an all-too rare opportunity to play together. Tibet did play in the 2006 Wild Cup in Hamburg and the ELF Cup in Northern Cyprus the same year but only because organisers were able to cover the team's expenses.
Tibet take on Gibraltar at the Wild Cup.
The Tibetan national team usually only play in India and not on a regular basis and the Shaheed Durga Mal Dal Bahadur Memorial Gold Cup Football Tournament event offers a chance for the team to test themselves against stronger Indian opposition. These tournaments offer prize money but Tibet's national team took eight years to win their first game. In 2003, Tibet first entered the All India Governor's Gold Cup and this tournament produced that historic win.
The Gold Cup features teams from India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. At the 2007 tournament in Sikkim, a goal from left winger Tsering Dhondup was enough for Tibet to beat the Imphal West District Football Association, which was representing the Indian state of Manipur. Tibet recovered a 2-0 deficit against a Bhutan XI in the next round through goals from Sonam Richen and Tsering again but lost the replay 3-0.
The Tibetan National Football Association was set up in 1982 by Kalsang Dhondup, who fled his Himalayan homeland as a small boy after China's invasion in 1950. In addition to running the national team, the TNFA also stages an annual Tibetan football championship, the Gyalyum Chemo Memorial Gold Cup. This year's event will be the nineteenth and be staged at the Rabgyaling Tibetan Settlement at Hunsur in south India.