When the Vancouver Whitecaps take to the pitch Saturday at BC Place for their 2022 home opener, like many of us, a part of them will be thinking about the war overseas.
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini can’t believe what he is seeing in Ukraine. A native of Florence, Italy, Sartini knows all about European history. He thought this type of needless bloodshed was a thing of the past.
“It’s so clear who is in the wrong, and who is in the right, in this kind of fight,” Sartini told reporters on Wednesday. “We want to do our part, take a stand, tell people in the world that we are close to the population of Ukraine that is suffering a lot, it’s inconceivable. I thought in the 21st century, to see another country go to conquer another country was something like old news, something that you read in the history books, unfortunately it’s not like this.”
The Whitecaps have a mix of nationalities from all over the world. While they come from different backgrounds, together they’re a team that’s fully behind in supporting Ukraine.
“We want to send a message and give our help,” Sartini added. “We know that soccer is so important for us, but there’s other things that are more important. It’s helpful to realize how lucky we are, and how fortunate we are living in this country and doing this job.”
Fans attending Saturday’s match against New York City FC are being encouraged to wear blue and yellow in support of the people of Ukraine.
While there are no Ukrainian-born players on the Whitecaps, it’s worth noting that Canada has the third largest Ukrainian population outside of Ukraine. Ukrainian flags will be handed out to everyone in attendance.
The club has said it will be making a donation to the Canadian Red Cross Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis Appeal.
Our home opener is almost here but some things are bigger than football.
Let’s show the world on Saturday that 𝘄𝗲 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗨𝗸𝗿𝗮𝗶𝗻𝗲 🇺🇦
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 2, 2022
“We have a huge Ukrainian population in Vancouver, 100,000 plus people,” said Whitecaps CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster. “It should be meaningful for them to see that everyone stands up. Nobody is hiding at this moment, everyone shows their opinion about that situation and everyone aligns with them to say ‘this is wrong, this is completely wrong, what’s happening now.’”
While some athletes might be hesitant to step up and use their platform to speak out, Whitecaps defender Florian Jungwirth is not someone who stays silent.
The 33-year-old grew up outside of Munich, and he has family that lives in Germany.
“Obviously terrible things, people are dying,” Jungwirth said. “Losing everything in an unnecessary way, because of one stupid maniac, and it’s just terrible. You read the news and it sounds so unrealistic. I think it’s two hours by plane to my family, which is pretty concerning for every individual person.”
Jungwirth and his wife Kathleen are avid outdoor enthusiasts and have long supported rehabilitating and living together in society with wildlife. They’ve contributed to a White Rock based bear shelter that will help bears in Ukraine.
“We all have a platform and if you have the chance to do something good, in a situation like that, in Ukraine, it’s good. My wife and I donated money for bears in Ukraine.”