Kicking the ball around for peace

Soccer for Peace held its annual fund-raiser in Manhattan with more than 300 guests in attendance.

soccer for peace 88 (photo credit: )
soccer for peace 88
(photo credit: )
Soccer for Peace, an organization that aims to unite children in war-torn countries through soccer, held its annual fund-raiser Wednesday night in Manhattan. More than 300 guests attended, helping raise over $75,000 to fund Camp Co-existence at the Wingate Institute in Netanya this summer. The dinner honored: Sunil Gulati, the US Soccer Federation's newly-elected president; Shep Messing, who played alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbauer on the New York Cosmos; and Ethan Zohn, a former professional soccer player better known for winning Survivor Africa. "Soccer is the world's sport," said Zohn, who used some of his Survivor winnings to start charitable soccer organizations like KickAIDS. "It's the only sport that has the power to unite and break down stereotypes. Once you step foot on the field, everything goes away." Camp Co-existence, in its second year, will kick off on July 9, the same day as the World Cup Final. "What binds [the camp's participants] is that they have the best soccer training," said Ori Winitzer, the founder and director of Soccer for Peace. "What they don't realize is that organically, they're working together." According to Winitzer, he came up with the idea of Soccer for Peace during Israel's bloody 2002. The Palestinian suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya on Passover of that year was the final straw. "I wanted to do something hopelessly positive," Winitzer said. "If we can actually meet one another and humanize one another, that's a start." As a former teammate of Brazilian great Pele, Messing has seen firsthand the impact that soccer can have on peoples embroiled in conflict. He recounted Pele literally stopping a war. In 1967, Pele played in Lagos, Nigeria's capital, after both sides in the country's civil war agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire. "Why can soccer have this impact on people?" Messing asked. "It touches your nerve, your heart, your passion." Soccer, however, has also been credited for causing violence, even religiously motivated. The Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic, for example, represent the Protestant-Catholic schism in Scotland. At games, the fans need to be separated by police. "I'm not saying soccer is pure," Messing said. "But soccer and youth is. Soccer at the youth level is before children are tainted by hatred."