September 28, 2007

Soccer tournament helps bridge cultural gap

by Eric Welch


CARBONDALE, Ill. — How can students from opposite corners of the globe with completely different cultural backgrounds find common ground in Carbondale? Football – but not the brand most Americans immediately think of with helmets, touchdowns and tailgating. Soccer, the kind with shin guards, a round ball and slide tackles, is bringing a diverse group of American and international students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale together through their common passion for the sport.

The International Student Council at SIUC is sponsoring its annual soccer tournament this fall with eight teams competing on Saturdays and Sundays at the Jean Stehr Field next to Wham and Pulliam halls.

"We have American students, Africans, people from Latin America, China, Korea, the Middle East, Saudis, people from Greece and pretty much all over," said Aaron Victor, president of the International Student Council.

"I think for international students, not everybody can integrate into the local sports scene," Victor said.

The tournament helps bridge that cultural gap by giving students from around the world an activity they can readily identify with, watch and compete in.

"It is a serious tournament because we play by FIFA regulations, which is the governing body for soccer," Victor said. "We bring professional referees in, so it's pretty intense. The games are pretty good also – you get to see people doing stuff like on ESPN like bicycle kicks."

The tournament is set up in a round-robin format where each team plays seven games, one against each team. The top four teams with the highest point total move on to the semifinal round and then to the final game.

"2003 and 2004 were predominately won by Middle Eastern players, then after that the African players took the cup for two years. And now this year it's pretty much any man's game," Victor said.

This fall there are four new teams in the tournament, and the number of athletes and spectators is up from past years. Players sign up as individuals or teams, and registration is open to all SIUC students. Some of the teams in this year's tournament include the African Lions, the Latino Alliance, Armada and the Saluki Kickers.

Games started on Sept. 22 and will continue every weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until the semifinals on Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Oct. 20 will be the final day with the third place game at 10 a.m. and the championship game at 1 p.m. Students and the community are welcome to attend all games.

"The whole tournament is basically run by students," Victor said. "We would like more people to come to watch and volunteer, especially Americans. I just want people to come out and see the games."