British Columbia

Soccer Canada president defends position on Team Tibet, says 'nothing nefarious' going on

The president of the Canadian Soccer Association says the Tibetan women's soccer team is welcome to play in sanctioned Canadian tournaments as long as the required paperwork is completed.

'This is...not a rule that Soccer Canada has embedded, it's come from our governing bodies'

Team Tibet poses for a photo on its arrival at Vancouver International Airport. "I don't have words to express how we feel right now, we are too excited and happy," said midfielder Pema ​Choedon. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

The president of the Canadian Soccer Association says the Tibetan women's soccer team is welcome to play in Canada in sanctioned tournaments as long as the required paperwork is completed. 

Steven Reed told CBC News there is "nothing nefarious" in requests made by the CSA and B.C. Soccer Association for the names and travel documents of the 14 Tibetan players participating in the Vancouver International Soccer Festival.

He said the CSA is just following the rules of regional soccer governing body and world governing body FIFA. 

Adri Hamael decided to cut ties with the BCSA and CSA and will now run the Vancouver International Soccer Festival as an unsanctioned tournament. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

"We welcome anyone to come and play but there is certain paperwork that has to be completed," he said. "We have to do our due diligence and we have to answer to the other governing bodies in the world."

Earlier this week the founder of the tournament decided to cut ties with the CSA and the B.C. Soccer Association, finding the request for information on the Tibetan players was over-reaching and unwarranted.

Hamael said he believed soccer officials were trying to prevent the team from playing.

"VISF's core values are inclusion, respect and equality and by asking for a list of [the Tibetan players] while not requiring a list of all of our participants does not align with our values," said Adri Hamael, announcing the tournament would go ahead, albeit without CSA sanctioning.

The 14 young players on team Tibet are all living in exile in India or Nepal. They learned soccer through a humanitarian outreach program that teaches girls how to play the game.

'We are too excited'

Team Tibet arrived in Vancouver this morning.

​"It feels like a dream," said midfielder Pema ​Choedon. "I don't have words to express how we feel right now, we are too excited and happy."

The Vancouver International Soccer Festival is a friendly, grass roots tournament in its 13th year.  

According to Hamael, international teams that have competed in the past were never required to submit player rosters or travel documents.

But Reed said FIFA and CONCACAF collect the information from all soccer players travelling internationally.

"They don't differentiate between professional, amateur, recreational or grass roots." he said. "It's a matter of protection of the individuals, I would assume."

Denied entry to the U.S.

Team Tibet drew international attention earlier this year when players were denied U.S. tourist visas to attend a high profile youth tournament in Dallas. 

The stories prompted Hamael to invite the team to the Vancouver International Soccer Festival. The players had no problem securing Canadian tourist visas.

Tibet is considered an autonomous part of China, although its status is contentious. FIFA does not recognize Tibet.

Reed said he has no knowledge of any international opposition to the women playing under the Tibetan flag.

"There is no information that has come to us as the Canadian Soccer Association, there's nothing that we're aware of that's come to the B.C. Soccer Association," he said.

"And to be honest we are not a political organization and we would not view that favourably."

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