The Forbidden Team (2003) - Det forbudte landshold

Tibet is ‘The Forbidden Team’ (2003) in FIFA

A Dane who spent time in a Tibetan monastery, Michael Nybrandt realizes his dream to organize an international match between Tibet and Greenland. Neither team is recognized by FIFA.

China tries to block the game because Tibet is part of China. Greenland’s own application to join FIFA could be jeopardized by playing.

Northern India is where the Dalai Lama and 80k Tibetan refugees have lived in exile since 1959. Tibet’s team is newly formed. Jens Epsala is hired as coach for one month to train the team in Dharmsala.

Tibetan training conditions are dismal. The pitch is actually a dirt road, continuously traversed by cows and people, and doused by pouring rain. The coach runs 2-a-day practices for 3 weeks. Only 8 players are able to get Identity Certificates to leave India, so when the team finally gets to Denmark, other Tibetans in Europe fill in. Before the game, the Tibetan players drape long white neck scarves on their opponents as symbols of peace and harmony.

It’s too bad the film says little about the players representing Greenland; I assume they are mostly from a club. In Summer 2016, I was on a Zegrahm Expeditions cruise around Greenland. The population is only 57,000, but the 4 port towns we visited all had outdoor football pitches ranging from a single dirt pitch in the small villages to 2 artificial turf fields in the capital. (Sorry, but Twitter/X doesn’t allow me to embed my own tweets anymore.)

While the DVD is titled The Forbidden Team: Soccer as Buddha Would Have Played It, the Danish title is Det forbudte landshold. Under any name, this made-for-TV documentary effectively communicates the plight and pride of stateless nations, and how their status affects a player’s ability to play football at the highest level.

Other stateless nations competing in soccer

In research, I found these are just some of the stateless nations who compete in non-FIFA-sanctioned tournaments.

  • Gagauzia – a disputed region of Moldova
  • Zanzibar – a Tanzanian territory
  • Greenland – part of the Denmark Commonwealth
  • Crimea – darn that Russia
  • North Cyprus – part of Turkey?
  • Tibet – invaded by China
  • The Chagos Islands

FIFA money doesn’t go to stateless nations

The vibe of this movie is similar to Next Goal Wins, except when I watched the American Samoa story, I kept asking myself, where is all the FIFA money going? Tibet has no FIFA money, but it has great football passion. For another Tibetan story about soccer, watch The Cup. See Desert Fire for a film about other stateless teams, including the Kurds. There is also a film on the stateless Palestine team: Goal Dreams.

Director Rasmus Dinesen’s website has many of my favorite scenes from his film, plus unused footage.

Michael Nybrandt is putting together a graphic novel of the whole experience.

7 SoccerMovieMom Rating = 7


  • Release Date: 2003-05-29 (Denmark)
  • In Danish and Tibetan with English subtitles
  • Danish title is Det forbudte landshold
  • Alternate title is The Forbidden Team: Soccer as Buddha Would Have Played It
  • 57 minutes
  • IMDB
  • WIKI
  • Director: Rasmus Dinesen, Arnold Krøjgaard