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Soccer sisterhood

12 June 2015


HOLLYWOOD hits have been created from far less promising material. This one had an assortment of quirky characters: a David v. Goliath set-up, a villainous institution, and more back-stories than Simon Cowell could shake a stick at. The producer and presenter of The Documentary: Soccer Nuns (World Service, Tuesday of last week), Ivan Broadhead, needs to get agent-pitching before someone else does.

The "nuns" bit is misleading. The squad of refugees from whom the Tibetan Women's Soccer Team is picked are not overtly religious, and the description comes courtesy of an admiring Buddhist monk. In any case, were they to be real nuns, it could not have enhanced any further the extraordinary nature of their achievement.

The squad of 27 is drawn from Tibetan exiles living in India, under the management of coaches from the United States. Quite apart from the fact that they have to beat the opposition in a three-match tour of Delhi, we discover, in this documentary, how they must put up with prejudice within their own culture against women's sport, and carry the baggage of bereavement, abuse, and imprisonment which is the lot of the refugee.

The villain of the piece is an old one. FIFA, although recognising 23 non-sovereign states, will not recognise a Tibetan team, male or female. The weight of Chinese opposition appears to be irresistible; so the team must find competitions where it can, and find practice facilities where buffalo aren't grazing.

Soccer Nuns was a terrific piece; and those responsible will not, I hope, mind if I say that it warrants treatment on a platform bigger (even) than a Tuesday-evening World Service strand.

There are certain radio personalities who get typecast as "good listeners". Not a bad type to be cast in, you might say - and Fi Glover appears to be exceptionally good at it. Responsible for The Listening Project, Glover also presents The Shared Experience (Radio 4, Tuesdays). Last week, the shared experience was of living with the consequences of a disabling accident; and what was striking about the three guests - David, Sian, and Kelly - was their disarming reasonableness.

There was anger, but not to the extent of its being debilitating. And there was a good deal of humour, particularly from the women, who enjoyed the therapy of social-media banter with people in similar situations. None of them felt pressured by what Glover identified as the modern obsession with being positive. And yet the only chill in the air came when David told a story from before his accident, when he met a man disabled by a rugby injury, and thought that he would have preferred to die rather than live like that.

Although radio comedy is notoriously hit-and-miss, Before They Were Famous (Radio 4, Wednesdays) is more the former than the latter. The show recreates the (fictitious) disiecta from the pens of celebrated writers, and last week's hit was an imagining of a "Keep Off The Grass" sign had it been written by William Blake.

Haunted by spiritual emanations and prelapsarian nostalgia, the resulting drivel will have had many Radio 4 types chuckling themselves to sleep.

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