Sports and World Peace

By: Joy Gendusa


Like baseball, basketball is one of America’s favorite pastimes. The evening the Houston Rockets won the NBA Championship in 1995, the streets of Houston were packed with throngs of people and seemed to be a common thread amongst everyone no matter their race, color or creed…. that commonality was sports. It didn’t matter if they weren’t really basketball fans; they were fans of being winners and that night, we were all winners.

There is something going on in Iraq right now that reminds me of that nostalgic moment: !b>Operation Soccer Ball. Apparently the Iraqi people, particularly the Iraqi children, are passionate about soccer. Actually, it’s football to them, but we call it soccer. You could equate their passion for the game of soccer to our love of football or baseball. Any street, field, farm, or dusty ground off the side of the road is a veritable soccer field in Iraq. From reports of soldiers overseas, Iraqis are all passionately chasing some form or fashion of a soccer ball. If they don’t have a soccer ball, they’ll use anything as a substitute – even a rock – and play with it like they were playing for the World Championship.

Iraqis need soccer balls, and whoever started Operation Soccer Ball, in my opinion, is brilliant. It was started as a way to convey the goodwill of America and American soldiers by giving Iraqi children soccer balls that they so desperately desire.

The love of sports, in this case being soccer, is starting to become an instrument of peace and is forming a common bond between the US and the Middle East. It’s transcending cultural differences and language barriers and it’s also mitigating the aggravated feelings of some Iraqis that would rather not see US presence in their land.

I found out about Operation Soccer Ball from a local radio station in Tampa Bay — WQYK. They contacted my company, PostcardMania, to print posters promoting Operation Soccer Ball in an effort to raise money for the cause and enable soccer balls be sent to soldiers in three different locations in Iraq. The purpose of the mission was to solidify relationships with the future leaders of Iraq by giving soccer balls out to the Iraqi children.

The program actually started in Tampa by a woman named Gina McDowell whose son, PFC McDowell, is serving in the Army Reserves presently stationed in Al Hillah, Iraq. He is part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team attached to the United States State Department. Gina came up with the idea of collecting soccer balls when her son told her the impact they had on Iraqi children. She then contacted WQYK to help spread the word and aid in the collection.

Operation Soccer Ball was run through the local VFW. (There may be other programs like this around the country.) And PostcardMania printed the posters — pro-bono. We do lots of pro-bono work for charities and recently started doing more for the military. We were contacted this past summer to help USO Georgia by printing 18,000 postcards for a large deployment of American troops so they’d have postcards to write home to their families on one last time before boarding their plane on their journey to the Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well, I got a letter the other day that Operation Soccer Ball was a big success — over $8000 was raised for the project and all the monies went directly to the cause which enabled WQYK to collect over 3500 soccer balls and enough money to ship them (it costs close to $2 to ship each ball!). One interesting note that really stood out was that after being befriended with a soccer ball, some Iraqi children have risked their own safety by disclosing the whereabouts of numerous IEDs (explosive devices) and insurgents to our soldiers. Wow. It’s amazing to me that a small gesture of a soccer ball can impact so many lives.

People have different concepts of what happiness is. For some it could be a trip to the Bahamas. For others, it could be a stroll down memory lane with an old friend…or the love of a good game of basketball. But for the Iraqis, it’s the game of soccer. And a lot of good people are creating a safer haven in the worn-torn Middle East with just a few balls – who’d have thought?

Michael, a soldier in Iraq who has a blog on the net, cited some Kiowa pilots from the 1st Cavalry Division that had been dropping soccer balls from their helicopters after completing their missions. One story in particular really struck a chord.

“I remember this one time when we came down, ready to drop a few balls and we see this kid standing off in the distance. He had his arm cocked back to his ear, just ready to hurl a rock at us. I pulled one of the balls out and tossed it to him. The kid just stood there for a second, like he really wasn’t sure what to do, but then he dropped that rock, grabbed the ball and gave us the thumbs up. That was cool.” -Chief Warrant Officer Sonny Hinchman, Kiowa pilot.

The Tampa Bay program has ended but hopefully this story will inspire others across the nation to develop similar initiatives in their cities. More corporations can get involved by donating soccer balls — monetary donations or donations of the soccer balls themselves with possibly a company logo on each ball. What a great way to get exposure and positive publicity after donating a few thousand balls. Even big conglomerates like Nike, Microsoft or even city governments like NY, Atlanta, Houston or Tampa Bay can get on the bandwagon. Heck – let’s rain soccer balls instead of bullets. Who knows, we might just have the next World Champion Soccer Team on our Hands: Team Iraq.

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Using a powerful, simple, extremely cost effective way of communicating with customers has earned Joy Gendusa Inc Magazine’s recognition as the nation’s fastest growing direct mail postcard marketing firm with year 2006 revenues estimated at $17,000,000. Gendusa began in 1998 with zero investment capital. Today her firm, PostcardMania, employs 150 people and prints 4 million postcards. Visit her web site at www.PostcardMania.com

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