These days, our thoughts about football lean towards the game that is played on the largest stage—take the World Cup, for example. But as a group of youth soccer players and volunteers who got together for a friendly tournament demonstrated, the power of sport to connect—and heal—communities is a force to be reckoned with.

Nadia NPO is actively supporting many projects for children affected by the March 11, 2011, disaster in Tohoku. Since 2013, Nadia has delivered over 15 new “Playgrounds of Hope” to disaster-stricken areas in Tohoku, in addition to sending children affected by the Fukushima disaster to summer homestays in Italy. Last September, Nadia supported the delivery of a new community center/soccer club house in Rikuzentakata in coordination with Hisashi Kato, a J-League team general manager and former Japanese National Team captain who has been active in rebuilding projects in the Tohoku area.

The Nadia International Soccer Friendly Cup is the result of a collaborative proposal to invite soccer teams from the disaster-stricken Tohoku region to the Kanto area. The groups participate in a soccer tournament that builds lasting friendships between the two areas, and also exposes the Tohoku children to a broadly international community of children and families.

The core Nadia members of Guy Roberge, Justin Ho, Fri McWilliams, Naomi Rennie and Morgan Knight in coordination with Greg Culos formed the core committee to coordinate and execute this event to great success.

Preparation for the project began at the Hikarigaoka campus of Aoba Japan International School (A-JIS) at the beginning of February, and from the kickoff, the organization was aiming for a lofty goal. They wanted to secure the commitment of a total of eight soccer teams (four from the Kanto area and four from Tohoku area), secure funding from sponsors, and coordinate the logistics of transportation, lodging, tournament schedule, volunteers and food preparation for the first-time event. And they had fewer than four months to do it.

Although the time flew by, thanks to the coordination of Hisashi Kato and Aoba-Japan’s Greg Culos, four Kanto teams (the A-JIS Junior Tigers, Tiny Titans, DSTY Eagles and the Yokohama International School Dragons) and four Tohoku teams (Aizu/Koriyama Santos, Shishiori FC, Ohno Sports Youth FC and Ishinomaki Fantasista FC) joined the friendship soccer tournament, which took place at the end of May.

The Nadia International Soccer Friendly Cup was hosted on the weekend of May 23 and 24, and the Tohoku teams arrived on the evening of Friday, May 22, to dorm at the gymnasium of A-JIS. For many of the children from Tohoku, it was the first time they had ever been to Tokyo. Tokyo teams and volunteers arrived on the morning of May 23. From the opening ceremony, hosted by Culos and Guy, it was clear that the atmosphere of the event was going to be one of friendly competition and sportsmanship.

The games began at 9 am and ran straight through the day, with just a short break for lunch. Hungry to learn more about the game, teams that were not playing on the fields took the opportunity to watch and learn from the various play styles on show and how the different teams matched up. Kids could also play on a basketball court, free areas in the gymnasium, and in the school pool to relax and enjoy themselves between matches.

Throughout the day, student volunteers at A-JIS set aside time to work alongside with the adults, in addition to handling tweeting and providing live video streams of the event online. The staff of Cezar’s Kitchen provided time and supplied breakfast and bentos for the first day of the matches, and brought vegetables for the BBQs on Saturday and Sunday. The French cuisine community—including Pachon and Amicale des Cuisiniers et Patissiers Français au Japon—kindly donated a bountiful supply of high quality prepared meats, cheese, bread and wine for the event-closing BBQ.

After the first day of round robin matches, the organizing committee felt that it would be best for the coaches to be involved with establishing the tournament schedule for the second day, to make sure that their teams have the most enjoyable and competitive matches.

The coaches were so excited by the enthusiasm of their teams that the original game schedule for Sunday was extended to start earlier—running from 8 am and going until 1:30 pm, right before the scheduled departure times of the Tohoku teams—in order to maximize play time.

As organizers explained, the goal of the project was to provide both a memorable event and create long-lasting friendships between children from different communities. And on that aspect, they can say that their mission was accomplished.

Final Results of the First Annual Nadia International Soccer Friendly Cup

First Place: DSTY Eagles, awarded by Mr. Joji Hiratsuka, Chairman of Nadia NPO
Second Place: A-JIS Junior Jaguars
Third Place: Ishinomaki Fantasista FC
Friendship Award: Shishiori FC, awarded by Jean-Pierre Biard, CSR Committee at BNP