Soccer Group Attempts to Score During World Cup

Posted June 25, 2010 at 5:22pm

As World Cup fever takes hold in Washington with Members of Congress, lobbyists and staffers glued to their television sets watching the latest soccer games, there’s no better time to be David Tyahla.

As chief lobbyist for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the charitable arm of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Tyahla has a captive audience to make his pitch for growing the game in the U.S.

The foundation was founded from the proceeds of the 1994 U.S. World Cup. Since then, the nonprofit has worked to bring soccer to inner-city neighborhoods and to promote the game to low-income, at-risk communities.

In the past 15 years, the organization has invested more than $50 million in grants and projects in every state. Tyahla’s top priority on Capitol Hill is getting more government attention on soccer and the need for dedicated land.

“You might go to some area where there’s no place for kids to play even,” Tyahla said of the group’s focus on urban areas. “Open space is at a premium to begin with.”

To address the need for open spaces, the U.S. Soccer Foundation has joined a larger coalition supporting the land and water conservation fund. The foundation, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, and landscape architect and recreation trade groups, among others, make up the Urban Parks Coalition.

While Tyahla is a department of one, he noted that the nonprofit is located in the nation’s capital — not in Chicago, where the federation governing U.S. soccer is based — by design to act as the advocacy arm for the game.

The foundation tries to capitalize on its proximity to powerbrokers and politicians. For example, it held court this year at high-profile events inside the Beltway. First lady Michelle Obama attended one of the group’s soccer clinics as part of her campaign against childhood obesity.

The foundation also works in D.C., helping fund United for D.C., an effort to promote soccer in the city’s Southeast quadrant.

For the past five years, the group has also held an annual fly-in focused on getting partners and affiliates of the group’s soccer programs across the country in front of their lawmakers.

The foundation also held a World Cup viewing party Wednesday on Capitol Hill to raise awareness of the game. About 100 staffers and others, including Soccer Caucus member Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), joined in the festivities, Tyahla said.

Sires has introduced a bill that the foundation is supporting on urban revitalization and community involvement.

The soccer foundation isn’t the only group to take advantage of the World Cup to promote its issues.

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) is also getting in on the action. The trade group is hosting several viewing parties during Brazil and U.S. games to promote its lobbying agenda of removing a 54-cent tariff on ethanol imported from Brazil. The group also sponsored a promotion in which contestants guessed which team would score the 54th goal of the tournament.

“We’re trying to give folks on the Hill a chance to take a break from their work to come over and watch and cheer for their favorite soccer team,” UNICA’s Joel Velasco said.

Velasco has been wearing his cause on his sleeve, so to speak. Instead of a name, on the back of his jersey — No. 54 — Velasco has “cutthetariff.com.”

“All of this really is to drive home how sugarcane ethanol can benefit American consumers,” Velasco said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association also hosted a Friday morning and afternoon viewing sessions for nearly 50 industry representatives, Hill staff and NCTA employees. The event wasn’t just an excuse to ditch work — NCTA highlighted its industry’s technology by displaying the games in 3-D and high definition.

“NCTA has a multimedia facility with state-of-the-art technology that enables us to showcase how cable’s innovation provides consumers with great entertainment, communications and information services,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said in an e-mail.

It hasn’t been all work at viewing parties, though. About 10 tech lobbyists, including Franklin Square Group’s Josh Ackil and Brian Peters, Cisco’s Steve Hartell, and Intel’s Peter Muller hosted an informal viewing party at the Pug for the U.S. team’s first game. Peters said there wasn’t any lobbying at the game, just support for the team.