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Monday, April 30, 2001
Defiant Greenland will play Tibet
By Per Bech Thomsen

COPENHAGEN, April 30 (Reuters) - A local soccer ground in a Copenhagen suburb will lend its green pitch to players who are used to rougher conditions when Arctic Greenland meets Himalayan Tibet in an unofficial friendly match on June 30.

Dane Michael Nybrandt, who has been working on arranging the match for almost a year, is coaching the 20-man strong squad of exile Tibetans, while former Danish national coach Sepp Piontek is at the helm of the Greenland team.

Behind the scenes of this curious situation, a more serious political game is being played with China trying to stop the match, sources told Reuters on Monday.

The Danish Football Association (DBU) acknowledged it had been approached by the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen regarding the match.

'We are subject to FIFA (world soccer`s governing body) regulations and we therefore cannot have anything to do with the match,' DBU secretary-general Jim Stjerne Hansen said.

'We would never get FIFA`s approval to host the match as the Chinese Football Association would never allow such match to be played,' he said.

Neither Greenland nor Tibet are members of FIFA though last year Greenland signalled they were considering an application join UEFA, European soccer's governing body.

In Greenland, Chinese resistance to the match has also caused some concern although the vast Arctic island has not officially heard from China, according to Greenland`s Sports Federation.

Greenland has a significant export of prawns to China and after recently reaching agreement with China on a considerable reduction of duty on Greenland prawns it would be unfortunate to offend Beijing, a spokeswoman from Greenland`s local government told Reuters.

But Greenland`s Sports Federation intends to defy politics and play Tibet.

'We intend to play and I cannot see what should prevent us from doing so,' Greenland`s Sports Federation secretary-general Jens Brinch said.

The Chinese embassy in Copenhagen was not immediately available for comment.

Thousands of Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 nine years after the Chinese army entered Tibet and overthrew the Buddhist theocracy there.

Most of the Tibetan players are from India, Nybrandt said, with the team`s activities financed by grants from various foundations and sponsors.

Last year relations between Denmark and Beijing were strained over a visit to Copenhagen of Tibet`s exiled spiritual leader.

The Chinese government urged Denmark`s government to cancel its arrangements for a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen to 'allow bilateral relations to develop smoothly.'

In the event Rasmussen met the Dalai Lama on May 21 for 45 minutes at Copenhagen International Airport and not in his own office where he usually receives foreign dignitaries.

Along with other European Union member states Denmark officially recognises Tibet as a part of China.


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