Mercer Island boys soccer coach Colin Rigby remembers the effect traveling overseas had on him as a youth. He also recalls the effect friendly competition has had on international relations in the past.
Using that as inspiration, Rigby will travel with his Mercer Island FC U12 boys team, Mercer Island United, to Beijing July 25, in hopes to generate goodwill and soccer awareness as they take part in friendly soccer matches with other Chinese youth soccer teams. Mercer Island’s team of 16 will spend two days in Beijing before heading to Dalian for eight days, where the friendly matches will take place.
“There is so much more to this trip than taking kids abroad and teaching them about a new culture,” said Rigby. “The intention of the trip is to raise awareness socioeconomically and politically between China and the U.S. On a small scale, the intention is to raise awareness regarding soccer in China.”
Rigby said the idea came about from a friend of his from Dalian, who wanted to have youth from a growing soccer nation like the U.S play against the youth of China’s growing soccer program to raise awareness for the sport. He said with China watching other Asian countries develop stronger soccer programs while theirs has fallen off a bit, the hope is to get China back on the map as a soccer country.
The games will be in Dalian because, while China as a country may lack soccer awareness, Dalian serves as the country’s soccer capital.
While discussing the trip, Rigby recalled ping-pong diplomacy of the early ‘70s, saying in the spirit of what the ‘little ball’ did, he hopes to continue with the ‘big ball’ of soccer.
The players will do research on the places they visit, as Rigby emphasizes the trip will not just be about soccer, but will be an educational trip as well, with a visit to China’s Great Wall also on the itinerary.
“One the best experiences of my soccer career was going to England as a kid and learning about northern culture,” said Rigby. “It’s a pretty powerful thing. While kids enjoy the sport, and it’s so big with the World Cup just finishing up, I think it’s a really fulfilling trip for everyone involved just to see a universal sport in a different venue with a different support system and different cultural aspects.”
Rigby said the trip’s organizers are trying to get Chinese politicians and consulates involved and attending the games. If successful, Rigby said he’d like to see the Chinese government support the sport of soccer in a more drastic way, saying the country hasn’t had a lot of success getting the community involved.
“I think that’s one of the most important parts of trip. Some important political people [in China] are starting to take notice of this trip as more than just an opportunity for different cultures to play soccer. I think in general, it will boost the trip's importance.”