Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #216

May 29 – June 4, 2016

Welcome to week two hundred and sixteen of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. ‘Listening to our anthem was really emotional’: the World Cup for unrecognized states
  2. In ‘A Fighting Chance’, Olympic Hopefuls Get Shot At Medal
  3. Penny Hardaway’s post-professional career is even better than his NBA career
  4. Operation Coach Pairs Veterans With At-Risk Youth To Help Both
  5. Women’s Professional Lacrosse League Begins With a Mission in Mind
  6. Disability no obstacle to Syrian refugee weightlifter
  7. Meet the Steph Curry of wheelchair basketball
  8. In Iraq town, Real fans gather in ‘challenge to IS’
  9. Narco-Football Is Dead: Celebrating a Colombia Reborn
  10. The Fevered Dream Of A Freedom Fighter

U.S. Olympian Lauren Crandall: Using failure to grow and excel
The Thrill of Victory (Alexander Rossi)
Harlequins Foundation Launches Mettle Campaign after Signing Mental Health Charter
We can’t change the world, but we can build bridges.
Social return on investment in sport: A participation wide model for England

In lieu of an introduction for this week’s stories, we offer the following and simply say, “Thank You.”

“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

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‘Listening to our anthem was really emotional’: the World Cup for unrecognized states
While the tournament in Abkhazia may seem novel, the competition is actually Conifa’s third major event. Established in 2013 following internal discord at a similar body, the organisation hosted the first World Football Cup in Östersund, Sweden only a year later. French-based County of Nice lifted the trophy after defeating the Isle of Man, while Arameans Suryoye triumphed over breakaway South Ossetia in the third-place playoff. A European Football Cup followed in 2015, with Hungary hosting a six-team regional competition. County of Nice missed an opportunity to become dual Conifa World and European champions, losing 4-1 to Padania in the final. Conifa continues to grow, and in May welcomed the Pacific nation of Kiribati and semi-autonomous Greenland to its 36-strong membership list. While neither is likely to court controversy (Kiribati, as a United Nations member state, even has a strong claim to joining Fifa), the presence of Tibet, the Luhansk People’s Republic and Tamil Eelam risks embroiling Conifa in broader political debates. Although General Secretary Sascha Düerkop insists that his organisation “is 100% neutral”, the fraught politics of statehood and secession are never far from the surface.

(photo, Gagra)  Caption: The Daur Akhvlediani Stadium, Gagra. Photograph: Kieran Pender

In ‘A Fighting Chance’, Olympic Hopefuls Get Shot At Medal
This summer, more than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries will compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Many come with the hopes and dreams of not only a nation, but also the livelihood of their communities and families. This week, Samsung Electronics and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Best of Enemies) premiered A Fighting Chance during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The insightful documentary short provides an intimate look into the lives of four, inspiring Olympic hopefuls from small, some unfamiliar countries, as they overcome significant challenges to compete in the 2016 Games. The film follows Tsepo Mathibelle (Marathon) from Lesotho; Miller Pata and Linline Matauatu (Beach Volleyball) from Vanuatu; and Yenebier Guillén Benitez (Boxing, 75kg) from the Dominican Republic. It highlights that rare combination in those who are considered “the underdog”—uncompromising passion and willpower to overcome financial, emotional, and physical barriers as they strive to represent their nations this summer. “One of the things that’s great about the Olympic Games is that it’s a place where everybody gets to share the stage, but some of these countries and athletes don’t have the proper resources and are faced with so many challenges,” said Neville. “These stories are not just about competing for glory, but a better future.”

Penny Hardaway’s post-professional career is even better than his NBA career
Merriweather and Hardaway had a lasting impact on the young men they came in contact with over the years. “Dez and Penny taught me that, no matter where you’re from, there is always a way out. No matter what your condition is, continue to move forward,” Freeman said with an obvious sense of pride. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and to never forget where you come from.” Washington, who will be attending Texas College, said he has also learned a great deal from his coaches. “Dez and Penny taught me how you should never quit on someone you love.” He said he will give back to his community by providing time to the younger kids. Carter has narrowed his choices down to Henderson State University and Missouri Southern University. He said he will never forget the lessons he learned from Merriweather and Hardaway. “Dez taught me that no matter what the odds are against me to never stop fighting and to never give up, no matter what,” he said. “Penny taught me to always work the hardest, never let anyone outwork you and to strive for perfection.”

(photo, Penny Hardaway)

Operation Coach Pairs Veterans With At-Risk Youth To Help Both
After finishing the program, seven of the eight veterans felt that they had a stronger connection to the community, whereas only three felt that way at the start. Up2Us Sports added that six of those veterans, including Almeida, are still working in sports-based youth development, while two went on to pursue advanced education. While only eight spots will be available again this year, they hope additional funding will allow them to extend Operation Coach to more veterans. In the meantime, Up2Us Sports is doing more outreach for veterans to participate in Coach Across America. Almeida, who ended his fellowship in January with an offer to work full-time as a physical education instructor at a Miami charter school and will be honored as Coach of the Year at Up2Us Sports’s gala in June, also spoke of the changes he saw in his students. “The disciplinary issues that they had weren’t there anymore, they were doing well academically, they were caring more about school, they were working well with others — there were no fights, there was none of that,” Almeida (known as “Coach Klei” to his students) said. “Just seeing that change in the kids and seeing them carry on through what I was trying to teach them,” he said, “it’s an indescribable feeling, I guess.”

(photo, Almeida)  Caption: Almeida coaching his students at a Miami elementary school. (Credit: Up2Us Sports/George Morency

Women’s Professional Lacrosse League Begins With a Mission in Mind
The league offers travel stipends but no salaries. But many players embraced the challenge of helping the sport grow. “It’s going to take time,” said Katie Schwarzmann, a two-time winner of the Tewaaraton Award as college lacrosse’s top player. “We’re going to need to get a lot more fans to really gather around what we’re doing, but I think it’s a great start.” Throughout the games, Murphy roamed the sideline, talking to players, coaches and referees, exchanging ideas on ways to improve the presentation. Murphy said a major goal of the UWLX was not only to provide a platform for players after college but also to act as a feeder system to the national team and create flagship events. U.S. Lacrosse hopes the sport will be introduced at the 2024 Summer Olympics, according to Ann Carpenetti, the vice president for lacrosse operations. “It’s really not necessarily about lacrosse,” Murphy said, “it’s about growing opportunities.” Those opportunities include targeting youth players. Last year, Murphy and Kirby created the Play It Forward Sport Foundation, which has a mission of creating pay equality by fusing sports and community. The new league is imbued with that ethos.

(photo, Women’s lax)  Caption: The Boston Storm and the Philadelphia Force of the United Women’s Lacrosse League at Lehigh. Credit John Strohsacker/

Disability no obstacle to Syrian refugee weightlifter
“I don’t want people to say that a person missing a hand or leg cannot play sports,” Belind says. “I play sports more than ordinary people do. My relatives say they can’t keep up with me!” After more than two years in the camp, Belind is holding on to his dream, to be relocated to the United States, where he hopes to receive rehabilitation and prosthetic limbs allowing him to walk. He also hopes to one day be able to go back to school and finish his education. Belind makes a point of meeting with other refugees in the camp housing 7,500 people, encouraging them to stay strong. “This is a hard situation. We want to get out of here because we cannot live like this. This is what life has brought us, and we need to find a way to deal with it. We should not spend time complaining – we need to find solutions. As young people, we are the strength of the camp.” His young breakdancing students could not agree more. “Belind is like a brother to me,” says 15-year-old Yousif Abbas. “I have learned many things from him, like how to be a good friend and to respect other people. Belind has a great attitude and I am learning that from him, too.”

(photo, Belind)  Caption: “I am not a person who likes to sit around. I see myself having talents that no ordinary person has,” says Belind, with a winning smile.

Meet the Steph Curry of wheelchair basketball
“My goal has always been to show people the true ability in my sport, and maintain an intense work ethic to prove to myself and the vast majority how tremendous of an athlete we as Paralympians are capable of being,” Scott told The Undefeated. It’s almost nine years later and Scott, known in the sports world as the Steph Curry of wheelchair basketball, is still doing his thing. “I am doing exactly what I love and not letting a single thing stop me,” Scott said. He has been a member of the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team for more than 10 years and is a three-time U.S. Paralympian. He’s never made an excuse as a way to get out of reaching his life’s dreams. Since birth, the odds have not been in his favor. He was born with spina bifida, a condition that affects the spine. His spine wasn’t fully developed, causing him to have no function in his legs. Complications caused by spina bifida can range from minor physical problems to severe physical disabilities. But this never stopped Scott from reaching his goals and overcoming the odds…His Twitter profile says: “Born without the ability to walk. So I learned to fly instead! My wheelchair basketball career has taken me all over the world.”

In Iraq town, Real fans gather in ‘challenge to IS’
“Tonight, it’s much more than just watching a football match, it’s a challenge to Daesh,” said Qais, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (IS) group. “Until recently, I’m sure Ronaldo had never heard of Balad. Now he has worn the black arm band for our martyrs,” the 29-year-old said. “I hope he scores at least one tonight,” he added, shortly before his idol and his teammates jogged onto the pitch to face Madrid rivals Atletico in the Champions League final. IS, a jihadist organisation that has sewn death destruction in Iraq for two years, claimed responsibility for the attack, although the exact circumstances of the raid and its aftermath remain unclear. The carnage sparked an outpouring of sympathy from the football world, including from Real Madrid, whose players wore the black arm band for their final Spanish league game the following day. “The reaction of the club gave us great joy,” said Qassem Issa, the 39-year-old businessman from Balad who founded the supporters club seven years ago. “Of course, before the attack, we were planning to watch the final here. There was some hesitation but eventually we insisted to spend the evening here, as a show of strength,” he said. Iraqi forces are currently fighting to retake the IS bastion of Fallujah, one of their toughest battles yet.

(photo, Iraq Real Madrid)

Narco-Football Is Dead: Celebrating a Colombia Reborn
Too often we say that sport can transcend life. It can’t. Sometimes it provides an escape, and other times it influences it in the tiniest way. However, it usually tends to mirror it—and as Colombia knows from its own past, not always positively. But if the country’s football in the 1980s and 1990s served as a sad microcosm of an era where it became known for drugs, violence and little else, now it’s a welcome symbol of a nation that is slowly finding both its voice and its place. Juan Pablo Angel witnessed that transformation better than most. Born in Medellin and raised there when it was the murder capital of the world, he won a national title in 1994 before moving to Argentina, Aston Villa and finally to the United States. “Going home once a year at the end of seasons made it easier to see the changes that were happening in the city and country,” he says. “Particularly when Alvaro Uribe was the president [between 2002 and 2010]. “That was probably when the changes sped up most dramatically, and that involved everything from security to construction to almost every other aspect of the country. It was easy to see it. I’d pop in and it was great to be hit with the changes that were taking place. It was massive, massive change. Really.

(photo, Colombia)  Caption: Rory Martin for B/R

The Fevered Dream Of A Freedom Fighter
He tries not to let himself show bitterness. Each day he forces smiles, and when his troubles are mentioned, he deflects. He has little money, but he gives loose change to child beggars. Charity is a pillar of Islam after all. One night, he and guests pass around tea and spend hours in conversation, and in the middle of it all, his phone rings. Jassem stands, and he walks back to an open bedroom. He paces back and forth, his voice tense, his eyes down. After a few minutes, he returns. No one asks who called, and he doesn’t tell them. Only later, when prodded, does he say it. The call was from a teammate. “The team,” he says, “is finished.” There will be no new funding. No more matches, no FIFA recognition, no day when Jassem can claim on a grand stage to represent his people rather than Assad. He walks through the streets, weighing options. He has no money or job. His family is a war zone away. He could return to Deir Ezzor, but the moment he sets foot back in his country, he’ll invite death. He could find a job here in Turkey, but the government issues few work permits to Syrians. Any employment would have to be under- the-table. He could re-sign with one of his former clubs in Jordan or Oman. Coaches have messaged him on Facebook, showing interest. But for that, he’ll need to travel to Istanbul and replace his passport, which was destroyed in the war. The trip and fees would cost about $700. It sounds like a fortune. He’s idling and helpless, and soon he’ll have no choice but to accept an identity that long repelled him. Jassem al-Nuwaiji, once a professional athlete and an even prouder freedom fighter, is now a refugee. He looks down at his feet, silent. “I’m fine,” he says. He looks back up, his face trying to stretch into a grin. “Small problem.”

(photo, Free Syria)

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