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Refugees, immigration are part and parcel of American soccer

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Politics is forcing its way into soccer; soccer should win.

Osvaldo Alonso celebrates the MLS Cup win next to Chief Sealth.
Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

On Jan. 27, 2017 President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that suspends visas and other immigration matters from seven specific nations as well as suspended the Refugee Admissions program for fiscal year 2017 pending review. It has been harshly criticized throughout the United States and among its allies.

It has also been criticized by United States National Team Captain Michael Bradley.

Sunil Gulati appeared to agree with much of what Bradley said, although he withheld any strongly worded opinion of his own.

This Executive Order will directly impact your ability to enjoy soccer. There is a political refugee on the team. He may be their greatest player. If this Executive Order was written a decade ago Osvaldo Alonso likely does not become a U.S. citizen.

The more strict limitations to the seven nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) impacts some of our local heroes as well.

The Sounders Youth Academy accepted refugees from nations torn by war and rebellion from its earliest days. Khalil Ibrahim and Handwalla Bwana wouldn’t be Sounders without various refugee admissions programs. Bwana will almost certainly be a Sounders first team player.

His story is an American success.

The Bwana family spent the previous six years at Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya before getting approval for resettlement in the U.S. in 2010.

For Handwalla, looking back, his experience at Kakuma was downright tranquil. Sure, their mud hut was stifling during the relentless summers, but that just meant he could sleep under the stars.

Mornings were spent at school, evenings in the silence of the mosque. Days were spent playing soccer, always soccer, in the sand until feet cracked and bled. He was surrounded by family and friends. Those six years were the happiest of his childhood.

Immigration rights and the acceptance of refugees are U.S. Soccer. They are Sounders soccer. The outcry within the American soccer community originates from the athletes, coaches and administrators who deal with “others” every day. They accept them into soccer because it opens up the world to be a tiny bit more accepting.

Sports can be a cross-cultural communication. One only need watch Justin Meram and Steven Beitashour to get a sampling of Iraqi and Iranian culture within the US. One only need to remember the soul-searching decision of Sanna Nyassi to forgo fasting for Ramadan to help the Sounders in 2010.

The acceptance of differing cultures into American soccer, whether on the national team level or within its clubs is why the MLS Players’ Union issued a release in favor of Bradley.

In 2008 the marketing campaign for the launch of the Sounders within MLS was “The World’s Game comes to Seattle.” That includes all the world’s players. It includes young men from the list of banned nations. It includes Muslims. It includes refugees.

While there are politics that can be separated from soccer, it is impossible to separate the impact of this ban on the game we love. It harms all of America. It harms soccer, which so many of us use to escape the pressures of the real world.

Soccer should win and the ban should disappear.

Comments are open. They will be monitored and held strictly to how this specific Executive Order could impact soccer.