By Siddharth Saxena
New Delhi – Football’s universal appeal probably comes from its ability to be ridiculously simple at getting itself kick-started. All you need is to tell your mates to remember to get the ball along. Once that’s achieved, finding a place is never going to be a headache. Heavy irony for a ‘National’team that’s lost the ground beneath its feet,because it is only football that you still turn to.
On Saturday — rainy in parts, humid in most — Team Tibet ran from pillar to post, quite literally, so that they could play a football match. They had the ball, they had the men in good number. All they asked for was a place to play. For most part of the day, the story of the last two days kept repeating itself like some stuck spool of tape — the game kept running the risk of being a non-starter.
It was a long-drawn logistical nightmare. The budget of Rs 25 lakh for the game turned to 30 — the prize money from an eventually-aborted marathon race was quickly used to help pool further resources.
Organisers longingly spoke of last April when it was so much easier to burn effigies of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and risk the wrath of the local police than run across four largely-unused football grounds in the Capital only to be told they were not welcome. This, and that there were over 5,000 people having converged from all across the country and Nepal, who quietly turned wherever the authorities pointed their fingers. And all of this, so that Tibet could see their National team play football. Anywhere. As day morphed into late afternoon, it didn’t seem it would happen.
And then, almost as miraculously, the football happened.
Once the ball rolled and the goals came, even if the nature of the opposition was nothing to inundate Tibetan websites the world across with, it made the ordeal worthwhile. Five-nothing?
Six-nothing? No one kept count, because in terms of symbolism — made all the more surreal by nearly 3,000 candles which came alight at the venue as dusk descended on the city — few things could have had a greater impact than an an hour or so of international football on a mere college ground.
Had things been easier,would the point have been less direct in getting home? In a classic I-wasthere-but-I-wasn’t-there paradox, it only helped that there were close to 2,000 Tibetans stranded at various points in the Capital as confusion reigned all day.
After being holed out at their Majnu Ka Tila address for a good part of the day, 5,000 Tibetans were told by the cops that there was no need to go to the DDA Sports Complex at Jasola,the venue of the game till the morning at least, as it was out of bounds just as Jawaharlal Nehru and Thyagraj Stadium had become. The stalemate between the cops and the organisers ran into noon and three venues in the north were identified. Trust a college to have the generosity to welcome the idea of a movement, even if it is the final resting place for football match played more in the corridors of power.
Delhi University’s Kirori Mal College ground in was quickly readied and as Tibetans — young, old, male and female, monk and moneyed — made their way in, there was a buzz in the heavy air that something was afoot. It was Protest Football after all. In this, the score’s different.