All Nations Cup brings geopolitics to Shoreline soccer pitch

Sam Hassan gathers players from all the teams competing in the upcoming All Nations Cup Tuesday at Shoreline Stadium.  Based on the World Cup of soccer, the tournament brings together local athletes of different nationalities for a two-week tournament. (Photo by Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Seattle’s own “mini World Cup” puts the Northwest’s global diversity on display.

“Have you ever heard of the kingdom of Champa?” asks Sam Hassan. “Have you heard of Oromia or Kurdistan?” His questions rising above the rhythmic thwack of a neon yellow soccer ball being kicked down the field behind him. “Well, they all play for us.”

By “us,” Hassan means the All Nations Cup. A soccer tournament in which amateur local players representing nations all over the world play a series of games that can draw thousands of fans.

Audio: Seattle’s Version Of World Cup Draws Teams From Around The Globe
By Jessica Partnow for KUOW.

It’s a kind of 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.

On opening night, El Salvador faced off against Iran. The game ended in a 0-0 tie. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

On opening night of the 2012 All Nations Cup, El Salvador faced off against Iran. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

“We are the biggest and most important, dynamic and diverse ethnic event in the whole Northwest,” says Hassan who took over organizing the eleven-year-old festival in 2008, “We have more than 30 languages spoken.”

And many of those languages were being spoken on the bleachers at Shoreline Stadium Wednesday night. The Cup will begin next weekend but first the matches had to be determined and representatives from many of this year’s 24 participating teams had gathered to hear the results.

The rust-colored track and bright green turf glow a little in the growing dusk as ping-pong 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 and the person conducting tonight’s drawing—as he opens the proceedings.

Over the course of the next half-hour the teams are paired (Mexico vs. Italy, Japan vs. Russia, Gambia vs. Guatemala, Ukraine vs. USA, Palestine vs. England, etc.) eliciting groans, confident smiles or stony eyed resolve from the (mostly) young men scattered across the metal benches.

“I’m half Palestinian and half English so we’re going to be torn,” jokes Tareq Abu-Rish who works for Amazon by day and is the Palestine team captain.

For Team Palestine—who printed up their Palestinian flag themed red, green, white and black “All Nations Cup 2013” tee-shirts three months ago—the tournament is about athletics and 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.”

But as you might have guessed, bringing together representatives from so many different nations for a competition can also be complicated.

Gambia's team works out before a match in 2012. The small African nation typically fields a surprisingly strong team. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

Gambia’s team works out before a match in 2012. The tiny African nation typically fields a surprisingly strong team. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

Hassan, who himself is from Brazil, boasts that he could teach geopolitics after five years of organizing The Cup.

There was the time he says he received a slew of angry emails because The Cup 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 this evening Team Palestine asked if they could have their games scheduled around the religious fasting some of them are doing in honor of Ramadan (they can).

Hassan, who sometimes signs his emails with over fifty different words for “cheers,” is clearly proud of the complex community the tournament represents.

When asked if there are any particularly exciting matches this year Hassan answers like the diplomat he’s become, that they will all be “beautiful, good and tough competitions.”

But in case you were thinking that the game takes a backseat to community building, think again.

When asked if The Cup is a serious athletic competition Hassan barely manages to hide his offense, responding, “I’m from Brazil, I’m not going to put on a soccer tournament that sucks.”

To find out for yourself visit the tournament’s full schedule at: http://www.allnationscup.org/

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.

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