Your other foot(ball)

Dayton World Soccer Games returns

By Melissa Markham

Photo: Players from team Germany (left) and Burundi (right) fight it out on the field. Photo: Neal (Scooby) Daniels

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup just behind us and more teams competing this year than ever before, the anticipation for this year’s Dayton World Soccer Games games couldn’t be higher.

“We’ve had about 1,000 spectators each year before, but this will definitely be our biggest year to date,” Lamonte Hall, Dayton Department of Youth and Recreation Services Program Coordinator and co-coordinator of the games, said.

The competition itself is split into an adult and a youth team bracket, with each team in its respective bracket representing a different country. In order to represent a specific country, at least one team member must originate from the country selected. The sheer number of teams participating is a testament to just how diverse the population of Dayton truly is, and how the world’s shared passion for “football” brings so many different groups of people together, Hall said.

“A lot of immigrants stay segregated; we want to provide an opportunity for them to get out together, utilizing the number one sport in the world,” Hall said. “It’s important to us to let the community know we care and we want them to feel welcome.”

Likewise, Hall said, the natural camaraderie between the players from different countries is evident, regardless of the language barrier.

“I’ll be watching teams play against each other, each one shouting at their teammates in their native languages, and one player will knock another player down and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ in English, and they both understand,” Hall said. “It’s a powerful thing to see, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Dayton World Soccer Games participant Ramadhan Ndayisaba, 22, formerly playing for the “Africa United” team and this year representing his native country of Burundi, is very much looking forward to competing.

“I love playing with other countries from my side of the world,” Ndayisaba said. “It feels good to be able to represent my country.”

Though an exceptional athlete, Ndayisaba is an exception in and of himself, coming with his family to Dayton six years ago as refugees from violence and civil war in Burundi. Though he arrived with no knowledge of English or life in the United States, playing soccer for Belmont High School helped to facilitate a better understanding of English and a gradual transition into American life.

The Dayton World Soccer Games, while produced by the City of Dayton Department of Recreation and Youth Services, was inspired by the Welcome Dayton initiative – a branch of Dayton’s Human Relations Council – working to make Dayton an intentionally immigrant-friendly city, Welcome Dayton Program Coordinator, Melissa Bertolo, explained.

“Dayton, like the rest of the United States, has seen an increase in immigration over the years, which is why the Welcome Dayton initiative was created,” Bertolo said. “We exist to help create cultural competency and facilitate discussion between the immigrant community here and Dayton natives. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to exist.”

What Welcome Dayton actually does is, to say the least, extensive. A similar program to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Welcome Dayton helps to enforce the Fair Housing Act and prevent housing discrimination. The initiative enforces Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, outlawing the unfair discrimination of programs and activities receiving federal assistance based on race or country of origin. Welcome Dayton also helps to battle employment discrimination and increase awareness of immigrants’ rights concerning employment, education and health care.

Bertolo explained that by facilitating community discussions where Dayton natives are able to voice their doubts and fears concerning the influx of immigrants in the Dayton area, Welcome Dayton helps to ease the community and transition from believing stereotypical falsities – such as “immigrants take our jobs” – to accepting the influx as a positive thing, creating more businesses and even more job opportunities for our community.

Ohio is not only turning heads by proudly identifying itself as an immigrant-friendly state, but is nationally a leader on the immigration issue, Bertolo said. “Columbus’s immigration initiative is celebrating its tenth year of existence, with initiatives now in Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati and most recently, Springboro,” Bertolo beamed. “We want to give immigrants living in Dayton every chance to be successful.”

The Dayton World Soccer Games will take place Friday-Saturday, Sept. 12–13 at Action Sports Center, 1103 Gateway Dr., beginning with team registration at 5:30 p.m. and a scrimmage between the Dayton Fire Department and the Dayton Police Department at 6 p.m. All events are free to attend. For more information, please call 937.333.8400 or visit welcomedayton.org/soccer.

Reach DCP freelance writer Melissa Markham at MelissaMarkham@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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