“Have you ever heard of the kingdom of Champa?” asks Sam Hassan. “Have you heard of Oromia
His questions rise above the rhythmic thwack of a neon-yellow soccer ball being kicked down the field behind him. “Well, they all play for us,” he said.
By “us,” Hassan means the All Nations Cup
. It’s a local soccer tournament that draws thousands of fans to watch amateur teams representing nations from all over the world.
Think of it as mini-World Cup for the Northwest — an opportunity to gather people from diverse backgrounds around a universally beloved game. It’s also an impressive display of the size and diversity of international communities in our region.
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“We are the biggest and most important, dynamic and diverse ethnic event in the whole Northwest,” says Hassan, who took over organizing the 11-year-old festival in 2008. “We have more than 30 languages spoken.”
Many of those languages were being spoken on the bleachers at Shoreline Stadium on Wednesday night. The Cup begins next weekend, but representatives from many of the 24 participating teams were here for a drawing to determine the first-round matches. The rust-colored track and bright-green turf glow a little in the growing dusk as pingpong balls (representing teams) are dropped into a plastic baseball hat for the drawing.
“Brazil or Iran … are either of them here?” asks Sean Snyder, coach of the English team, as he opens the proceedings.
Over the course of the next half-hour, the pairings are announced: Mexico vs. Italy, Japan vs. Russia, Gambia vs. Guatemala, Ukraine vs. USA, Palestine vs. England, etc. The match announcements elicit groans, confident smiles or stony-eyed resolve.
“I’m half-Palestinian and half-English so we’re going to be torn,” jokes Tareq Abu-Rish who works for Amazon.com by day and is the Palestine team captain.
For Team Palestine, which printed up their Palestinian flag-themed “All Nations Cup 2013” T-shirts three months ago, the tournament is also about community building.
They take the training seriously, practicing three times a week, organizing mock matches and working with a fitness specialist. But what they are more likely to brag about is that they had the most supporters in the stands last year.
“Soccer is simple,” says Mohammad Kaddoura, one of the team managers. “But when you look at it, it really brings the whole community together.”
As you might have guessed, bringing together representatives from so many different nations can also be complicated. Hassan, who is from Brazil, boasts that he could teach geopolitics after five years of organizing the All Nations Cup.
There was the time he says he received a slew of angry emails because the event allowed a “Team Kurdistan” (there is no official country called Kurdistan). Or the time a group of people who carried Russian citizenship, but identified as ethnically Turkic asked if they could play for Turkey (they could).
Just Wednesday evening, Team Palestine asked if they could have their games scheduled around the religious fasting some of them are doing in honor of Ramadan. The answer was yes.
Hassan, who sometimes signs his emails with more than 50 different words for “cheers,” is proud of the complex community the tournament represents.
Asked if there are any particularly exciting matches this year, Hassan answers like the diplomat he’s become. They will all be “beautiful, good and tough competitions,” he said.
In case you were thinking that the game takes a back seat to community building, think again.
When asked if the All Nations Cup is a serious athletic competition, Hassan barely manages to hide his offense. “I’m from Brazil. I’m not going to put on a soccer tournament that sucks,” he said.
To find out for yourself, visit the tournament’s schedule at: allnationscup.org
Sarah Stuteville is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of The Seattle Globalist, www.seattleglobalist.com, a blog covering Seattle’s international connections. Sarah Stuteville: email@example.com. Twitter: @SeaStute