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Q & A with Lorrie Fair

Former U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Lorrie Fair is no stranger to the Sports Envoy program. Through the Sports Envoy program, which is part of SportsUnited’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sport Initiative, U.S. Soccer seeks to promote sports and spark dialogue with children from around the world. Fair has been on several trips with the program over the past five years, ranging from Morocco to Venezuela. When she heard about a Sports Envoy trip to Afghanistan, Fair jumped at the chance to join. Before heading to Afghanistan, Fair took some time to speak with about the trip and the reason she continues to volunteer for the Sports Envoy program. How did you become involved with this particular Envoy trip and what attracted you to it?
Lorrie Fair: “I’ve been involved with the Sports Envoy program for probably, I don’t know, five years now and I love it because, for one thing, when you go and you play with the National Team, you see the hotel and you see the field but you also get to see things that, as a tourist, you would never get to see. You also get to see the unbelievable power of sport and not just what it did for my life but what it can do in other areas of the world. In particular, it highlights how lucky we are to live in a country where women have an opportunity and socially safe spaces to play sport. I’ve spent a lot of my time in the developing world and when this came up, I’ve traveled to the Middle East, Asia, Africa, North Africa and it’s definitely one of those things that I feel a responsibility for as a global citizen, to try to help out in any way I can. Being a female soccer player, I learned over the years how rare it was. Being a kid, you just play because you love it but as you start to see the world, it definitely becomes evident that you are extremely lucky to have that opportunity.

“When this came up, I know its Thanksgiving and all, and Thanksgiving is actually a pretty special time for my family as well, but I think everybody understood that I had to go. I think it was an easy decision for me to have this opportunity with the State Department and U.S. Soccer to go on behalf of U.S. Soccer and the State Department to talk about women in leadership and the power of sport.” How did you find out about this specific trip??
LF: “We had just gotten the schedule of trips for next year and I had responded to the schedule and then just got an email from the people organizing the Sports Envoys at U.S. Soccer saying, ‘Hey, this is kind of really soon, it’s in a couple of weeks, but we’ve gotten a green light from security, would anybody like to go to Afghanistan?’ Immediately, I thought, ‘Yes,’ and ‘I need to tell my family that I won’t be around for Thanksgiving.’” That’s quite the news to receive right before Thanksgiving.
LF: “Yeah, they understand, though. They get me and they don’t worry about me all that much. I’ve been in some pretty hairy situations and somehow it always works out. It’s with the embassy and the U.S., I’m not off on my own so there’s nothing really to be afraid of.” On this trip, you will also be meeting with the Afghanistan Women’s Basketball National Team. Have you ever interacted with a national team from a different sport as a Sports Envoy or is this a first?
LF: “We’ve definitely interacted with people who are non-athletes, but I’m trying to think of whether there were any places where we interacted with someone from a different sport. Off the top of my head, I would say no. It’s going to be pretty funny because I’m sure everybody will be taller than I am. I can definitely tell my basketball story of how I always fouled out of every game because I would always get five reach-in fouls. I gave it up because I was always sitting off the court because I fouled out. I wasn’t meant to be a basketball player, I don’t think. But, obviously, sport transcends a single sport. And leadership for sport definitely reaches across all sports. I’m pretty sure that everybody will be able to identify even though we play different sports.” Yours is one of the names that comes up over and over for the Sports Envoy program. What do you get out of participating in this program and what do the women that you interact with get out of the program?
LF: “I can definitely say without a doubt that I gain more than I give. I say that in the nicest way and I mean that because whenever you volunteer for something, you may just say you’re giving something good, you’re affecting positive change. The truth of the matter is that you go and your world is opened up to a new culture and new people and you communicate, even though you might not be able to speak the same language, sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t, you communicate and you meet people and there’s so many things that you have in common and you just gain an unbelievable understanding of the world. Every time I go on a trip, despite what everybody says, I always leave there feeling like I gained a lot more than I gave. That part keeps me coming back but also just hearing the feedback the U.S. Embassy has gotten over the years with the Sport Envoys from the young people with whom we get to work with. This is the future of those other countries as well. It’s the same in our country when we work with kids. It’s like, this is the future of our country. The understanding they get from interacting with someone from the U.S., whatever stereotypes they might have about Americans, sometimes we break them and sometimes we fit the description. I remember when Jay Miller and I went to Morocco, the feedback when the press was interviewing the kids after a week of what was basically a residency camp, we had 60 boys and 60 girls and one field, 20 soccer balls. They said, ‘yeah, we learned a little bit of soccer but we were surprised at how the Americans treated us like equals.’ Immediately, Jay and I looked at each other and said, ‘That is the most amazing thing that we’ve ever heard.’ Obviously, these kids thought that Americans wouldn’t treat them like that, which is kind of sad on one hand. It makes us think, what are we doing when we do go overseas? How are we treating other people, both within our country and on the outside? It’s kind of a goal to be a better global citizen and I can’t think of a program to do that.” Is there anything else that stands out about this trip in particular that should be noted?
LF: “I think one of the special things is that women in sport, in particular, I feel like because we’ve gone through the social acceptance of women playing sport a lot earlier than a lot of countries, we really need to support Afghanistan. Not just in supporting women leaders and education and things like that, but with the pending military withdrawal from Afghanistan, I think a lot of people are frightened about what’s going to happen. History has told them it hasn’t been good but I think this time around one of the most important things about the military transition out is that the U.S. is not leaving them in terms of support, by any means. There’s a strong partnership there on a much deeper level than from a military standpoint, but just from a civilian standpoint and a program standpoint that we’re going to support them in the transition and really, hopefully, take the lead from them on the ground and be there for whatever they need.”