A Tibetan women's soccer team that said it was denied United States visas last month to attend a tournament in Texas has responded by organizing its own event in India.
Billed as "The Never Give Up Cup," the tournament will take place between April 2 and April 9 in the Clement Town Tibetan settlement in Dehradun, India. Tibet Women's Soccer, the nonprofit whose team members had their visa applications rejected, will host three female Indian teams and cover their expenses to participate, according to a news release from the group.
In addition to soccer matches, The Never Give Up Cup will showcase Tibetan feminism and engage the teams in women's empowerment activities, Tibet Women's Soccer executive director Cassie Childers told NBC News Monday from India.
"We just want to show the world that we were rejected from this experience, but now in response we're providing a similar experience to other teams that are less fortunate than us," Childers said.
It remains unclear why the Tibet Women's Soccer team members were denied visas to attend the prestigious Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup in Texas. Childers has said that according to all 16 team members who applied in New Delhi, India, embassy officials told them, "You have no strong reason to travel to the United States."
While the women were not competing in the April tournament since it's for boys, they were supposed to lead the opening day procession into the Cotton Bowl Stadium under the Tibetan flag, Childers said.
The Tibetan National Sports Association told the Associated Press they were unaware of the Dallas Cup trip. Childers said her group is no longer part of that association and is not an officially sanctioned team.
All but two team members who were denied visas held identity certificates from India, Childers said. Those are issued to Tibetan refugees and stateless people residing in India, according to an India government website. The coach and another player both had Indian passports.
Childers said four other players, all citizens of Nepal, applied for visas in Kathmandu on Feb. 7. Originally, their applications were under "administrative processing," according to Childers. But later they were informed they couldn't receive visas because the U.S. embassy in India did not grant them to their teammates, Childers said.
A State Department official has said visa records are confidential under the Immigration and Nationality Act, adding that they don't discuss the details of individual cases. Reached by email on Monday, the department told NBC News it had no further comment.
Childers has said the embassy officials may have mistakenly thought the team members would try to seek political asylum once in the U.S.
The majority of the players hail from Tibet, an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, which invaded Tibet in 1950. Tibetans have long claimed persistent political and religious persecution at the hands of the Chinese government, a charge Beijing has denied.
The U.S., for its part, has treaded lightly on the Tibet issue. The State Department said the U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China, a position that it said has not changed.
Past meetings with American presidents by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader exiled to India, have usually drawn rebukes from China.
Childers said she was shocked by all the media coverage her team's story had received. Helping to call attention to their ordeal was a video shared widely on social media of a player reading aloud a letter in English that the team had penned to Dallas Cup executive director Gordon Jago.
Elected officials including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), as well as human rights groups, all reached out to help, Childers said. Even members of the White House offered to assist, she added.
"At the end of the day, we had to tell them to stop because the Dallas Cup told us time has run out, and we have to try for next year instead," Childers said.
Childers said she feels they'll have a better chance getting U.S. visas for the 2018 tournament.
"I am way more optimistic now than I was before, just because we now have letters of support from senators and congressmen and various human rights organizations," she said.
Childers said she'll be headed back to New Delhi again on Tuesday, this time to visit the Canadian embassy. The Tibet Women's Soccer team received an invitation to compete in the Vancouver International Soccer Festival in July, she said. A total of 14 women, their coach, and Childers hope to attend.
Visas will be required, she said.
In the meantime, Tibet Women's Soccer continues to train and practice for its own "The Never Give Up Cup."
"For us, this is the first time that we've properly invited people into our space, into our community," Childers said. "We want to show them the meaning of Tibet."