Contractor kicks off soccer diplomacy

Justin Porto, an American information technology contractor working in Iraq, has launched a program using soccer balls to generate goodwill in the country.

Porto plans to distribute soccer balls on his daily runs through the International Zone or Green Zone in Bagdad. But first he needs soccer balls sent to him in Iraq. He is calling his project Soccer for American and Iraqi Friends, or SAIF.

Porto, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, works for MPRI, a division of L-3 Communications Inc. of New York. He was featured in the Dec. 10 Last Byte column in Washington Technology. Porto works as an adviser to the Iraqi director general of communications for the Ministry of Defense.

To stay fit, Porto runs in the Green Zone each day. Years ago, he said, he began dribbling a soccer ball while he ran. He has continued that tradition on his runs in the Green Zone.

Porto said he has received many odd looks from Iraqis who see him running and dribbling a soccer ball. He also has received smiles as he kicked the ball to people he passed along the way.

"When I am passing the ball amongst the population, everyone gets a little break from the ravages of war and the destruction and mess around us, and the faces of the people change from hard scowls to smiles and grins, even for a few seconds," he said.

His soccer ball distribution plan is simple. He carries a soccer ball in his backpack in addition to the one he dribbles. Then he engages a group or individual he passes in a little soccer play. When they finish kicking the ball around, he'll give them the new ball from his backpack.

Porto said he envisions giving soccer balls to Iraqi children, adults, soldiers and police officers in addition to security guards and Coalition members.

Along with the ball, he'll give a card with the name of the person, company or agency that donated that particular ball. The card also can include a Web site or logo if a company donated the ball. The card will state that a friend has given the ball through the SAIF project.

Soccer balls can be sent to:
    Justin Porto-MPRI

    MOD-TT (Phoenix base)


    APO AE 09348

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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