As with all international sporting events, the National Bank of Washington's Embassy Cup soccer tournament is susceptible to having political tensions played out on the field.
This month-long tournament, however, so far has escaped such problems, despite conflicts that have involved some of the countries represented by the 30 embassies and organizations with teams entered in this year's event.
Even with the competition expected to be keen in this Saturday's quarterfinals, which will include a match between Britain and Argentina -- combatants in the April 1982 war over the Falkland Islands -- players, coaches and tournament organizers expect to see little open hostility.
"We are going to play a soccer game," said Eduardo Lamagna, coach of the Argentinian team, through an interpreter. "We are not going to play politics. Saturday's game won't be the first time that an Argentinian football team has played a British football team since the Malvinas."
"We talked with both sides and both coaches," said Hans Hoogervorst, an international banking officer with the National Bank of Washington and a tournament organizer. "Everyone is aware there is still considerable tension between Argentina and Great Britain. But both coaches believe there will be nothing but excellent soccer. We are not concerned that political tensions will lead to rough play."
The members of the British team, because they are soccer players and representatives of their country, have a tenuous link to the riot in Brussels two weeks ago that left 38 dead. But in spite of the event -- which focused international attention on the European soccer community as a whole, and on the British in particular -- the team was warmly received on the Mall during its first match last weekend against a team from the Organization of American States, which it defeated, 6-1.
"No, we didn't feel any repercussions," said Jim Neikle, a midfielder with the British team. "It (the 3-year-old tournament) has always been played in a sporting manner. Our guys were just as disgusted as anybody else who enjoys football. All the real football fans were disappointed."
"We know that those few have brought shame and disgrace to the country," said Nigel Ellacott, a midfielder, who played for the team when it won the tournament last year and finished third two years ago. "People have listened and I don't think they would take it out on the majority."
Hoogervorst has observed a similar sporting approach. Valerie E.M. Hartles, the first secretary with the British Embassy, kicked off the tournament as a representative of the defending champions.
"It would have been unthinkable that a British person would have opened a soccer tournament," said Hoogervorst. "That really marks the difference between the spirit of our tournament and the spirit of soccer in Europe two weeks ago.
"The whole idea of it is to promote friendship and understanding in the international community. The idea is to overcome problems, not to foster them. In every international sport, nationalism plays a role but I don't see how political tensions should play a part in our tournament."