Ricardo Casanova has been a soccer fan for as long as he can remember; whether it be watching, playing or coaching, soccer has always been a part of his life. However, he did not make the switch from fan to activist until a few years ago.
About 6 (or 7 ) years ago, Casanova went to his community rec. center to enjoy a game of soccer with his son. However, there was no place in the center for soccer, in fact, soccer was not allowed. Casanova grew up in Millwoods, an area he describes as very multicultural. “All my friends were Jamaican, Punjabi, Phillipino, Chilean.” Says Casanova. “ So you drop this facility in there where there’s no soccer allowed? That’s the first sport for all of those people.”
Angry and annoyed, Casanova decided to take action. He canvassed his neighborhood, going door to door, asking his neighbors what sport their children played. “One was hockey, one was cricket and 28 were soccer,'' He says. Majority of the kids in his neighborhood played soccer, but there was no designated place for them to do so. Fired up by the results of this impromptu survey, he took his concerns to the city. “ I was calling them and bugging them, like what are you guys doing?” He says.
Casanova didn’t want to be seen as just “a pissed of soccer dad”, he needed people to know that his cause was to be taken seriously. “They wouldn’t take me seriously as an individual, so I started a non- profit,'' says Casanova.
He founded YEG soccer to “legitimize his voice”. In its infancy, the goal of the organization was to force the city of Edmonton to fund facilities for soccer. Now, their purpose according to Casanova is to make soccer present in everybody's life. “The main purpose of what we’re trying to do now is to make soccer unignorable. We have lots of ideas we just don’t have the manpower to do it.” He says. These ideas include: engaging and collaborating with multicultural communities, female empowerment in soccer, potentially hosting the first ‘soccer on ice’ event in Canada to raise money for a charity that focuses on individuals with mobility issues and a host of others. The organization also has an annual “Soccer for Socks” gala. A fundraiser that began in 2018, where the hefty donation of a pair of socks gets you admission (they also accept cash donations). This year, each pair of soccer socks will be donated to the Hope and Football group and regular socks will go to local homeless shelters.
One of YEG Soccer’s ‘whys’ is centered on the idea of community. The organization believes that “soccer transcends all languages, races, cultures, religions, and ethnicities”, this is also a personal belief of Casanova and one of the reasons he is drawn to Free Footie. You can take kids and “give them an outlet they already know, like here’s a soccer ball. You have a kid from Iraq, a kid from Dubai, a kid from Ghana and a soccer ball. They don’t need to speak the same language. Soccer is the universal language. That’s what Free Footie’s all about.” Says Casanova.
Casanova has been a proud “booster” of Free Footie for a while, but he didn’t become a sponsor until recently. “I decided to try to crowdsource a bunch of people on Twitter and Facebook to kind of come up with $50 each and we’ll come up with a $1000.” Says Casanova. “ I was absolutely overwhelmed. I definitely want to do another one.” He adds.
For those toying with the idea of becoming a Free Footie sponsor, Casanova wants you to just do it! “I had my own hesitations just because I’m busy enough already. But it’s worth it. It can't happen without people putting in the work, so just pull the trigger, just do it. It’s extremely rewarding to see the difference you can make”. Says Casanova. Watching the kids put on their jerseys and “have so much pride in that jersey with the work that you’ve done; you can’t quantify that kind of payback.” He adds.
Written by: Christina Thompson