The whole world has come down with soccer fever, and some of that enthusiasm filled Nanaimo sports fields this week.
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC held their annual Hope and Health event in the city, with motivational talks on Tuesday night at the Port Theatre followed by soccer skills clinics Wednesday at Merle Logan Field.
Many high-profile ‘Caps were in town, including coach Carl Robinson and players Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh, Gershon Koffie, Jordan Harvey, Steven Beitashour and others.
“Being a professional athlete, it’s what gives us enjoyment – the fans, the kids, so it’s always great to give back,” Beitashour said.
The defender has an especially inspiring story now, as he just returned from the World Cup in Brazil where he was a member of the Iranian national team.
“The World Cup, that’s as big as it gets and I always dreamed about that and for it to come true, it was unbelievable,” he said. “I’ll remember every little detail about it. The whole experience, mostly the fans.”
He said the streets in Brazil were filled with kids playing soccer. He didn’t see other types of sports venues like basketball courts – just soccer fields, everywhere.
“They might not be in the best condition, they might be dirt, but [the kids] are enjoying it,” Beitashour said. “They have a soccer ball and a bunch of friends out there and they all have fun with it.”
Iran had one draw and two losses at the tournament and Beitashour didn’t see game action, so he’ll remain motivated.
“You don’t want to just settle. The World Cup’s a great achievement to be part of, but my goal is to go play, so hopefully I can work hard and get another shot at the 2018 World Cup and hopefully play,” he said. “I’ll always increase the level of the goal and if I ever achieve it, I’ll make a new one.”
It’s the sort of message that is central to Hope and Health. The Whitecaps want to inspire youths, if not to make it to the World Cup, then just to play.
“I think every kid should start off playing soccer and hopefully they continue on as they’re older,” Beitashour said. “It’s one of those sports that’s … great for teamwork, you have camaraderie with the other kids and it’s just a fun, fun game to play.”
The event was presented by Kw’umut Lelum child and family services and Smun’eem aboriginal child and family service agency. This was the third annual Hope and Health event in Nanaimo.