Despite difficulties, soccer tournament is a positive force

I am writing in response to the negative opinion piece ["Message of unity muddled at All Nations Cup soccer tournament finale at Memorial Stadium"] that ran last week in the paper about the All Nations Cup. As the founder of the event, I feel I need to help explain why Sister Communities continues struggling against many odds to hold All Nations Cup each year.

It is understandable that the random visitor to the All Nations Cup Championship Games Day last weekend may have left feeling disappointed at the poor sportsmanship displayed. Even as the founder and director of the event for the last five years, I felt very much out of sorts at the end of the game when I should have been celebrating the end of another successful event. This was a situation where one individual can ruin an event for everyone.

The outstanding 4-1 win of Brazil against Russia was overshadowed for me by the unfortunate behavior of one player at the end of the game. The subsequent awards ceremony the previous writer talked about was affected by this - as organizers were still trying to deal with this incident and at the same time have a celebration for the champions. Needless to say, it didn't come off so well.

The simple explanation is that soccer brings up the passions of the participants, particularly in the championship game. The participants are local residents that are representing their homelands in a World Cup style tournament. The teams that have come to this level in the event are very amped-up, and they likely have never played in front of this many people before, and, more than anything, they want to win.

They want to win for their communities. On a deeper level - even more so in this local version of the World Cup - it is truly about getting respect on a personal level. These are not professional players that make millions of dollars a year and have very comfortable lives. In many cases, the individuals are recent immigrants who have had many struggles in coming to a new country and learning a new language. They have often have been treated very poorly in so many ways in life.

None of this is to excuse the players actions. As for the offending player - though the sanction has yet to be formalized by the Washington State Soccer Association - he will be banned for the next event as well as for likely playing in any FIFA-sanctioned league in Washington state for a year.

Personally, it has been a struggle dealing with the competitive-side of All Nations Cup. But in the end, the individuals who are not in the right spirit are few. Most of the participants, and the families that come to support them, are thankful to have a place each summer to call their own and to be able to show where they come from with the wider community.

It is really a unique space - particularly the qualifiers weekend. This year there were 43 countries represented and over 25 languages spoken. Soccer is a great equalizer and way to begin to interact across traditional boundaries of culture and language. Whenever I go on a trip to another country, I always bring my soccer shoes, and it opens doors. We may not be able to say many things to each other in a shared language, but soccer is our common language of shared humanity.

After five years of the All Nations Cup there has been a subtle shift in certain circles of the Seattle community. The teams that participate have started playing friendly games and picking up in parks across the city with teams that they would not be familiar with normally. This is a breath of fresh air in a city that is often fairly segregated along cultural and economic lines. Despite the many complexities of running the event, I hope that All Nations Cup can continue into the future as a ray of light in the city, a small way and place where people can look outside themselves for a couple weekends, and perhaps carry this openness into their daily lives and their family traditions.

Jessica Breznau is the founder of the South End-based Sister Communities and the founder/co-director of Seattle's All Nations Cup. She may be reached at this link.

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