Kicking around on roof of the world
( 2003-12-08 08:07) (China Daily)
Lamas in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region are trying to make their tranquil routine lives a little more well-rounded, with a football.
Putting down their Buddhist scriptures and changing the scarlet robes into the also scarlet Portuguese national football team uniform, they enjoy the game on a ground behind a meditation hall.
It is not a scene from "Shaolin Soccer,'' a comedy that smashed box office records in Hong Kong last year, it is a training class of the football team at the Sera Monastery in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Founded last April, the team of 20 players, all lamas, has enjoyed great fame not only among monastery football teams, but also among football fans in Tibet.
Tibet boasts more than 1,700 temples with 47,000 lamas. Sera Monastery, Ramoqe Temple, Zhebung Monastery and Johkang Monastery also have their own football teams, which have about 20 young lamas each.
Zoinzhu, 22, who plays as a central defender, has lived in the Sera Monastery since he was 13 and is now regarded as the best player in the football team.
"Before the team was founded, reciting the scriptures occupied most of my time. Now football becomes a great entertainment in my spare time,'' he said.
Zoinzhu's elder brother Daindar is the captain of the team, and a self-proclaimed "huge fan'' of French football star Zinedine Zidane.
The brothers said that the first time they came across football was when they watched a TV programme about the World Cup champion of 1998 at their relatives' home in Lhasa.
"From then on, we have been in love with this great game and we found some young lamas in the monastery who were also fond of football, so we began to play the game secretly,'' said Daindar.
Daindar did not expect that their "audacious action'' would disrupt life that much in the monastery, which strove to keep its regulations and traditions in country's great tide of "opening-up.''
"At the beginning, I didn't agree to allow the young lamas to play football because Buddhism calls for few desires and a simple life and I was afraid that playing the game would affect their religious study and cause negative comments from society,'' said Lobsang Qoinpe, a respected veteran lama in the Sera Monastery.
"But Daindar made the promise that they would not let football affect their daily practice and the reality proves they have kept their words and local people feel OK with their new entertainment in weekends,'' said the old man.
As one of the major temples in Tibet, the Sera Monastery has an annual income of over 2 million yuan (US$241,000) from selling tickets to travellers.
The money to buy sports suits and footballs comes from the players' monthly subsidy from the monastery, usually 200 to 300 yuan (US$24 to US$36).
"The first football we bought cost us 10 yuan (US$1.2) and it broke after being used only a few times. Then we bought a more expensive one and our skills improved quickly,'' said Daindar.
However, Rome is not built in a day: the team's first public "show'' turned out to be a big blow.
"Our first rival was a student team from a Tibetan medical college in Lhasa but we lost the match with a score of one to eight because of lack of training and knowledge of the game rules,'' said Zoinzhu.
"But it is still a wonderful experience. At first, the students were very surprised to know their rivals were lamas and they showed much respect and patience for us in the match,'' said Daindar.
So far, the team is still self-educated and they usually have training class and go out to play games with other teams on weekends.
In addition, they also learn the skills by watching the football games of the premier league in Britain, Spain, Germany and Italy on TV.
"We play much better now and many teams have invited us to play football. We just won a match with the team from the Johkang Monastery last week,'' said Daindar.
Meanwhile, all team members work hard on their Buddhism studies and consciously refrain from breaking rules and regulations of the monastery when they leave the temple to play football games.
"We believe playing football is for physical exercise and entertainment and it will not change our religious belief,'' said Daindar.
"... we sit and read sutras for a long time everyday and most of us had problems with our waists before, but now we have a better health and higher spirit, which is also helpful for the religious study''
DAINDAR, a "huge fan" of French football star Zinedine Zidane
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