Saturday, November 01, 2003

Soccer In America (part one)

Starting in the Autumn of 2000, I had the pleasure of spending a year living in London. It was odd making the transition when I learned that I didn't speak the language. I am an American who speaks only one language, and it isn't English. I speak American. This was going to be more dramatic than I anticipated.

Early on in my stay in London, Mrs. Mac and I were invited to see Arsenal versus Manchester City at Highbury, in North London. I had not been to a soccer match since seeing the old Boston Beacons at Fenway Park in the late 1960s. I was a lifelong baseball fan, and there had never really been any room for soccer. I tried to be interested during the 1994 World Cup hosted in the USA; but it failed to grab me.

The match between Arsenal and City was remarkable. I was an instant fan. I began to learn about the sport and its history and all the London teams.

Upon arriving back in the USA, I followed my new passion via the internet. I was relieved there were so many sites providing access to the English Premier League.

At the end of 2002, I began to seek information about American soccer leagues. I bought season tickets for the MetroStars and began investigating the US Men's National Team, and the Soccer Hall of Fame, and the US Soccer Federation, and ways to support the growth of soccer here at home.

I received an invitation to join the US Soccer Federation. The glossy mailing included a plea for money to light the soccer fields at the East Sixth Street Playground in Manhattan, and urged me to "light up the lives of soccer athletes in New York City." This was exactly what I was looking for!

I was rather excited about this proposition and prepared to sign-up. I read the brochure and was dismayed to find this: "This field sits a stone's throw away from New York's Financial Distirct and what was once the World Trade Center, where many workers were also soccer moms and dads, players, coaches, referees, and all-around fans of the great game of soccer." My heart sank. I could not believe that the U.S. Soccer Foundation was capitalizing on the tragedy of the World Trade Center to raise funds.

I located the Foundation's web site and contacted them via email which resulted in a correspondence with someone named Ellen Roberts. She denied that they were capitalizing on the tragedy and insisted she had never even heard of the brochure I was quoting. Eventually, I faxed a copy of the brochure and she tried to spin the whole campaign. It was a truly insulting experience. Her denial of the campaign was insulting enough, but to try and justify it was beyond the pale.

At the Foundation's web site, I found a link to the Soccer Hall of Fame. It's a nice site and it looks like a wonderful place. I read the inductees and saw many names of players who had been famous in South America and Europe early in their careers, and came to the US when their skills had diminished. Irrespective of their motives for playing in the USA, over the last thirty-five years these men have helped the sport put down roots.

To my horror, I learned that Henry Kissinger was a National Board member of the Soccer Hall of Fame and my mind began to spin.

Kissinger is the man who brought us the Christmas Bombings of Hanoi, and was recently unable to chair President Bush's 9/11 Investigation Committee because (it seems) his partnership has done a good deal of business with corporations owned by the bin Laden family, whose son has been linked to the World Trade Center tragedy. I know many apologists for the current administration will say there is no proof that Kissinger is connected to the bin Laden's; but, an awful lot has been published about the connection and he has never denied the connection, he only denies doing any business with the group currently.

So a member of the Soccer Hall of Fame's national board is profiting from the money earned by the family of the man who funded the WTC tragedy, and the US Soccer Foundation is using the WTC tragedy to raise money.

Am I the only person who sees a conflict here?

Should an organization trying to capitalize on the tragedy of the World Trade Center be allowed to control the funds that send the USA national teams into worldwide competition? And should the museum and hall of fame that promotes that same sport proffer an honorary position to a man who represents a fortune that funds the criminals who perpertrate crimes against the United States?

I don't know about you, but I will go to the soccer matches and I will avoid the not-for-profit foundations related to the sport.