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Published:June 25th, 2006 05:39 EST

Young Football Players are World Cup Revels

By SOP newswire

State Department initiative emphasizes team building, conflict management

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- It is a very tense time for many football players attending the World Cup matches in Germany.

But for a group of 30 young athletes from around the world, attending the football tournament (soccer in the United States) is the highlight of a two-week State Department program that emphasizes teamwork, intercultural understanding and respect, and conflict management.

These 30 boys and girls, all expert football players, represent 13 countries. They were selected by U.S. embassies in their respective countries to participate in the World Cup Sports Initiative, an innovative program sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Major League Soccer.

The program gave the young participants an opportunity to pick up new skills by meeting American coaches and playing against young American football players in New York City and Washington.

At the same time, the young athletes, aged 13 to 18, learned about the different cultures of the other program participants.  Even President Bush took time out to greet the athletes at the White House June 12. (See related article.)

“We have one language and that is soccer and that is very important,” according to Gustavo Gutierrez, a 16-year-old striker from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. “But I think young players from other countries that they are not different, just the language [is] so it is very cool that everybody is the same and friendly.” (See related article.)

After nearly two weeks of scrimmages, seminars and meeting in the United States, the program participants are winding up their tour in Germany, where they visited Nuremberg then went to Frankfurt for the World Cup games.

At a June 23 press conference in Nuremberg, Karen Hughes, the State Department's undersecretary for public affairs, said the initiative made a point of reaching out to youths from Islamic countries and promoting dialogue between the United States and the rest of the world.

The World Cup Sports Initiative participants come from Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bolivia, China, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda and Uzbekistan.

The game of football is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.  According to a survey conducted by the Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s Association (SGMA) in 2004, football is the only major sport that has seen its U.S. participation grow since 1987. The survey indicated that nearly 16 million Americans played the game in 2004. (See related article.)

The U.S. youth initiative reflects the theme of this year's FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, "a time to make friends," with an emphasis on building international understanding and respect between young people around the world.

Germany is hosting the 2006 World Cup from June 9 to July 9.

For more information, see World Cup 2006 and the U.S. Embassy in Berlin's World Cup Web site.

For more information on athletics in the United States, see Sports.

SOURCE:  U.S. Dept. of State