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Immigrants, Holocaust and Refugee Causes Find Footing with Sports Events

10 Jul, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

While much of the world reeled in shock from the image of the father and his daughter who drowned while trying to flee across the Rio Grande, another segment of the population was trying to take in an exhibit in a New York museum that featured artifacts from the Holocaust. June was also Pride Month, which this year, marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, otherwise known as the Stonewall Uprising, which saw members of the LGBTQ community fight back against harassment from the police in Greenwich Village in June 1969.

The emotional reaction to these events has even made its way to the sports industry, where organizers are showing support by creating events meant to foster inclusivity and underline the common denominator: mankind.

And it’s not just the fact that international events exist (after all, on the largest scale, the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the highest number of players, coaches and personnel than ever before, identified as out, and two of those individuals are an engaged couple on the U.S. team). On the local level, organizations are putting on events expressly designed to bring together the mainstream and the marginalized.

In Oregon, the Portland World Soccer Tournament kicked off its 10th year, at the same time the U.S. women charged onto the field to face France. Portland Parks and Recreation crews predicted their biggest tournament ever, with be 31 teams squaring off over a 75-game tournament – and all players being refugees and immigrants.

“One in five Portlanders right now is foreign-born. And a great way to integrate into the United States and to Portland is through an international language, and that for us, we found, is soccer,” said Mark Ross from Portland Parks and Recreation.

It was the same principle as the Refugee Youth Soccer Camp scheduled for Landover, Maryland (near Washington, D.C.), next month.  The camp, sponsored by LACES (Life and Change Experiences through Sport) has the goal of teaching life lessons through soccer – and providing a community of acceptance and tolerance.

Bringing the larger community together for events, and raising awareness of the commonalities between people, is another goal of events. So is fundraising. The Holocaust Museum Center for Tolerance and Education in Suffern, New York, sponsors a 5K Run/Walk for the Six, to memorialize the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Participants are invited to either walk six laps on the Rockland Community College track or run a 5K around the campus as we remember the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

In Orlando, the CommUNITY Rainbow Run benefitted the OnePULSE Foundation, set up after the 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub that took the lives of 49 patrons, the deadliest attack on the homosexual community in the U.S. Ultimately, owners of the club would like to build a memorial, establish community grants to care for the survivors as well as victims’ families, and build outward on creating awareness and remembrance.

While, in many cases, events are set up by churches, synagogues and private sports organizations, it is those organized by governmental entities that are trying the hardest to promote healing. The Portland World Soccer Tournament was created by Som Subedi, an immigrant from Bhutan. He said his idea helped him land a full-time job with Portland Parks and Recreation after moving to the city with only $10 in his pocket.

He said the tournament helps immigrants connect to a new city in a new country, and that it comes at at a time when individuals in marginalized communities have lost any faith in the current presidential administration.

“There is really a lack of trust with the government. So, as a government, we are reaching out to the community and saying, ‘Let’s connect. Let’s use soccer as a vehicle, so whatever we have, let’s get connected,’” Subedi said.

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