This sport particularly, but also events like the World Baseball Classic and the Olympics, connect us to the world beyond our shore. Soccer fans in particular are used to following the sport in Europe, sometimes in Latin America, and even more rarely in the other regional Federations. Be it the World Cup in South Africa, or this week's African Cup of Nations in Angola, the sport of soccer (by any name) has a means to connect us even slightly to the world around us.
With the tragedy involving the Togo national team along the border between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo it was also a reminder for Seattle Sounders fans that Steve Zakuani knows a bit about the DRC - it was his birthplace and the nation he hopes to represent at some point in the future.
His statements on the event sound like listening to my friends that remain in the military or in peace studies. His awareness of the issue, and now our own have increased. Ideally the only thing that arises from this event is that the people in "The West" tune a little bit more into Africa's issues.
"Firstly, I was as shocked as everyone else when I read about the incident, it’s very tragic. But I don’t think there is a need for people to react in some of the ways that they have concerning Africa’s capability in hosting the world cup. These attacks were not soccer related at all, they were more along the lines of being political statements by this group. It’s unfortunate that the Togo national team was affected in this way, and that a life was lost.
However, I don’t personally see how that should raise questions over South Africa hosting the world cup. The group claiming responsibility for this, say that their country is at war, and they are protecting it. South Africa doesn’t have much to do with Cabinda so there shouldn’t be any concern about them hosting the world cup."
But Zakuani isn't the only Major League Soccer player with ties to Congo. Danny Mwanga, the nearly certain #1 pick in this year's draft is as well. And while the continent is certainly not a monolith, with each nation and multi-national region having its own issues politically, culturally and economically, the fact that two straight number one picks have come from the same nation can and should be a sign of hope.
Hope that we in America don't forget about the the torn continent, and hope for more in Africa that they have more routes to escape poverty. Charity alone won't be enough, and finding ways through micro-loans and business are really the key to raise overall quality of life. Football and Soccer are a means of escape but the 30+ players from Africa in MLS can not just escape, but instead lead.
Recent signing by FC Dallas Aziz Ansah will have the opportunity for he and fans of FC Dallas to increase their awareness of the issues of West Africa, just as the Nyassi's have in their way.
If this seems a noble and naive wish as South Africa and Angola host major international events, realize that these events were awarded partly for this specific reason. Sport can and has been a means of cultural exchange, and for hopes of nations. Be it the Iraqi Olympic team, an Iranian wrestling exchange with America, a little league baseball game between Israel and Saudi Arabia - Sport unifies people in ways that politics and religion can not.
Richard Farley is going to do a great job of covering the ACN, but I ask for a bit more awareness from each of you. Algeria, Angola and South Africa will all be in the soccer news over the next six months. Take this as an opportunity to learn a bit more about their history and their struggles. Take this opportunity to show that the potential nobility of sport can be more than that.
In Seattle Gorilla FC takes time each quarter to raise a small bit of funds for a charity. They connected to Bolivia last quarter and the tragedy of Black October. The ECS recently started a subgroup called the Armed Forces Brigade to recognize active duty and veterans of the Armed Services. In Toronto the Red Patch Boys work in their local community coaching youth sides.
Maybe its because I discovered my passion for the sport in the stands of World Cup Qualifers in Kuwait, or my fascination with Arab soccer as a beacon for a troubled set of nations and peoples, but in light of the tragedy it grants all of us the opportunity to do even 1% more for our fellow man.