"Sport is, per se, a universal language."
These words from Renée D'Elia-Zunino, senior lecturer in Italian studies, accurately summarize the purpose for the second annual Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures Soccer Mini World Cup: to celebrate individual cultures while bridging the gaps between them.
The tournament will be held today at 4 p.m. in the Regal Soccer Stadium. It will include eight student-led teams from UT's foreign language offerings, with each language having its own team except for French and Arabic, which will be joined together because of logistical reasons.
Last year's inaugural tournament was organized by the UTK Italian Club and included representative teams from Italian, French, German, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese language classes. Club officials thought the event lined up with UT's "Ready for the World" initiative, and thus the tournament was born.
This year's tournament is organized by Laurent Zunino, lecturer in French, and will feature a similar format, with an introductory ceremony of National Anthems as players walk onto the field and a few languages offering brief performances representative of their culture; the games will follow, with eliminations, semifinals and a final.
"Sport is played and watched by people from a variety of social backgrounds," Zunino said, "and it has a socializing and educational effect that makes it an ideal vehicle for intercultural dialogue and social integration.
"It's not only about the sport: it's about getting together and sharing a passion for the culture."
The teams hold tryouts to select players and then have practices to prepare for the tournament. All of this preparation work is done by students enrolled in foreign language classes at UT.
Matt Warren, captain of the Portuguese team, volunteered during a class with Wanessa Martin, Portuguese lecturer, because he said he saw a need and knew his own experience with soccer could fill it.
Warren, senior in geography, has played soccer for 18 years, refereed for six and coached for three.
"I love the sport of soccer," Warren said. " I also have a family with Portuguese background and have visited Brazil myself. I believe (the tournament) gives us a better grasp of feeling as a part of the Portuguese department and representing them."
The event also gives students a chance to participate in a sport they might not have played since high school, organizers said. Kathryn Pepperman, freshman in Portuguese and Economics with an international business collateral, will be the goalkeeper for the Portuguese team in today's tournament.
"(The best part is) getting to put on a 'uniform' again," Pepperman said. "It is an absolute honor to be able to represent an organization. I am also so excited to bond with my fellow classmates and take down the other departments."
For D'Elia-Zunino, the tournament is a chance to teach her students about the language in ways that are exciting and relatable. She said she tries to focus on a sports week in class to get students engaged and excited about the material. Additionally, sports activities are integrated often into her curriculum.
"We do language activities related to sports all the time, inside and outside the classroom," she said. "When I want to teach the imperative command, I have them running, jumping, racing, stopping and swinging between the benches of the classroom."
When the tournament begins, it becomes more than just an out-of-class learning opportunity – it is a real sporting event, complete with cultural decorations, flags, national anthems and high energy.
"For two hours these students are not UT students anymore, they are the Russians, the Italians, the Germans of all the world, right there to live a special moment, all together," D'Elia-Zunino said. "The cultures mingle, the excitement rises and the spirit is so uniquely liberating, as if we were a one single entity."
The event is free and open to the public, with free parking around the stadium.