Sometimes soccer can connect the world. In the case of Portland Timbers Bright Dike and Mobi Fehr, as well as Thorns FC’s Karina LeBlanc, Emilee O’Neil, and Meleana Shim, soccer has been a key part of their lives across different cultures.
All were in attendance this past Tuesday evening at a special community event at the MercyCorps Action Center called “The Beautiful Game: Stories of Soccer and Community Change.”
The event shed light on the impact the game of soccer can have on struggling communities, whether it be a distraction from the realities of civil war, an opportunity for a child to go to school, or a social gathering place for disabled children.
The evening began with an exhibit called “The Art of Sport + Play.” Artist and social change agent Kevin Carroll guided viewers through his personal collection of soccer balls from around the world, many of which were made from trash bags (Mozambique, Kenya, South Africa), banana fiber (Uganda), and socks (Brazil).
Carroll also displayed youth art projects, his personal collection of books on social change through sports, and art he created about his backstory and his belief that a ball can save a life.
Following Carroll’s exhibit was question and answer panel featuring the Timbers and Thorns players who talked about how they became involved in soccer and what it meant to them growing up.
“In soccer you don’t need to understand what each other is saying,” said Fehr, who grew up playing soccer in Japan. “Through soccer, I learned to connect.”
Each Portland player comes from different parts of the world, and have each either played or worked internationally. Dike has Nigerian parents and played for their national team last season, Fehr was born in New York, grew up in Tokyo and played in Switzerland, LeBlanc spent part of her childhood in Dominica, Shim is from Hawaii and O'Neil worked for a time at a non-profit in Africa.
“It connects, it crosses languages, and brings people together,” said O’Neil. “That’s my favorite part of soccer.”
After the panel concluded, there audience enjoyed a screening of “The Beautiful Game,” an inspirational documentary about the impact soccer has had on modern Africa. The film follows six stories about people struggling with topics ranging from life in the war-torn Ivory Coast to young players being misled by greedy agents promising success in European soccer leagues.
The Art of Sport + Play is open to the public through July 31st during regular gallery hours.