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Soccer Players Share Goal With the Fans

Relief: Tournament raises money for victims of Hurricane Mitch in Central America and part of Mexico.

November 19, 1998|JOSEPH TREVINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fans came by the tens of thousands Wednesday to see soccer superstars from Mexico and Central America vie at the Coliseum. But this time, the players competed for a greater cause than victory.

The tournament, called Project Relief/Soccer '98, was held to raise money for Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch, which left more than 10,000 dead and thousands missing, and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The players had left their teams and their countries, all hotbeds of soccer, during the ongoing season to participate.

"It doesn't matter who wins," said Manuel Lapuente, coach of Mexico's team. "There's no rivalries here . . . just our best soccer."

The four-team tournament began Tuesday night. Mexico beat El Salvador and Guatemala defeated Honduras. Wednesday's championship, which attracted about 35,000 people, many waving flags from their native countries, pitted the winners of Tuesday night's game. The other two teams played Wednesday night for third place.

Mexico's superstar striker, Luis Hernandez, said he didn't think twice about leaving home to play in these games.

"What's important is to come here and help," he said. "It is an honor to play here. I hope that this helps the people who need it the most."

El Salvador midfielder Carlos Castro Borja said he was so moved by seeing firsthand the ravages of Hurricane Mitch that he had no choice but to participate in the tournament.

"It was the tremendous impact it had on me of seeing people who lost their loved ones," Borja said.

Fans who attended the game paid $15 in advance or $20 at the gate.

Ramon Hernandez, 28, said that he brought his son and daughter, who wore bandannas with "Mexico" emblazoned on the front, to show them the importance of helping others.

"The scores don't matter right now," he said. "It doesn't matter who wins, but to help our brothers in Central America."

Sandra Lozano, whose parents live in Honduras, said she has not heard from her family since the hurricane. Coming to the games, she said, was a way to contribute to the relief effort.

"I think the games were a good thing to do because there are so many people suffering right now," Lozano said.

CONCACAF, the federation that governs soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, organized the tournament with the nonprofit organization CARE.

CARE will use the proceeds to distribute aid in the region, said Anne Moran, director of the Los Angeles office. The bulk of the aid will go to Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Belize and the southern region of Mexico also will receive aid, Moran said.

Tournament organizers said the Coliseum will forgo its use fee, and Mexicana and Taca airlines will waive or discount fares for the teams.

"In times of disaster, we are trying to help those who are suffering," said CONCACAF spokeswoman Gil Fracisco. "During hard times, we are a family of nations who are united in their love of soccer."

Information on donating to the relief project is available at (800) 521-2273.

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