At the World Cup, it’s all about competition.
But football has a whole other goal at one U.S. organization.
As CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports, its mission goes way beyond the game.
In many ways, this football pitch in China is a world away from the World Cup. Children are still learning the finesse of football, far from the arena of elite players.
Though the kids may not have all the moves, they share the same fire for football.
“These are not rich children, they have one skill that is special – soccer,” Sue Xueyan Su, who founded ViaSoccer, a U.S.-based organization said. “I want people who don’t have the financial capacity to be able to experience the beauty of football and the world can bring to them.”
That message became her mantra. She carried it all the way to Italy where she convinced experienced football coaches to travel to her Chinese hometown of Taicang to share their expertise with children.
“Everybody just embraced the idea, and it started from there,” said Su.
“The commitment I see in the kids, in the Chinese kids, this kind of engagement and commitment is not so usual in Italian kids, we were really impressed,” said Francesco Monaldi, one of the Italian football instructors.
“They give us their heart, their passion, and this is the most beautiful part,” another Italian instructor.
Su has always been passionate about football, but it was one experience in Italy that truly changed the course of her life and led her to devote herself full-time to the sport.
“A friend introduced me to that town. It was like a fairy tale,” said Su.
The town was Macerata in central Italy where she visited for the first time six years ago. She found her calling when she stumbled upon a historical image of Matteo Ricci, a religious figure from the 16th century.
“Matteo Ricci was the first Italian man that went to China and brought China a lot of Western culture,” said Su.
Now Su has become a pioneer of her own. Three years since ViaSoccer launched, a few hundred people have visited each other between the two cities.
And the connections extend beyond football, as the children share their countries and cultures with each other.
“What really touched my heart was when one Italian child, two actually, decided to study Chinese for their major when they grow up,” said Su.
So long after the World Cup is over, the plays on the pitches of ViaSoccer keep on delivering.
“Soccer is the common language. You don’t need to know English, Chinese or Italian. You can let the kids play, and they will grow,” said Marcolini.
“I want to open our hearts and minds together. That kind of impact on the next generation is powerful,” said Su.
At first, Su had to support a lot of the cultural exchanges with her own money. But, governments of participating countries have now pitched in some funding, and private sponsors are helping out with what players can’t pay.