TORONTO — Bets were placed, challenges accepted and spirits were high as celebrities laced up alongside regular-joe athletes to raise money for a youth centre in northern Uganda.
Big names like actor Michael Cera and Weezer lead singer Rivers Cuomo hit the pitch with sports enthusiasts from across the Greater Toronto-Area at the Athletes for Africa soccer tournament, an intimate event that had fans and players rubbing shoulders in the Saturday sun.
“I think it’s an easy thing for me to do to help people out,” said Cera, of “Juno” and “Superbad” fame.
Having donned blinding red socks and short shorts to match, Cera said he was playing his first game in over ten years.
“I wanted to come because I’m afraid of soccer and I wanted to face my fear,” Cera deadpanned.
After holding his own for most of the game, the young actor said his biggest achievement had been successfully passing the ball.
“I really expected to lose. That’s what I’m used to,” he said after his team tied a game.
Other celebrities, however, weren’t as modest.
“I’m trying to raise money and also trying to score. Those are my two goals,” said a sweaty Murray Foster from folk-rock group Great Big Sea.
Foster played a few rounds, managing to stop two goals, before heading to the Molson Amphitheatre for a performance Saturday evening.
“I’m exhausted. The show will be awful,” said Foster, grinning widely.
“But my priorities are in order. It’s helping the kids in Africa.”
The first event of its kind, the tournament had already raised over $30,000 through online team pledges before the games had begun.
Every cent of cash collected will go towards building a youth centre in Gulu, a war-torn area in northern Uganda.
“There’s a lot of emergency programming in the area but there’s nothing for kids who are good at anything, to be great at it,” said executive director Adrian Bradbury.
“We’re trying to help build that next generation of leaders.”
Construction on the proposed centre, which will host sports, arts and cultural programming, is set to start later this year, Bradbury said.
Although the event was teeming with soccer enthusiasts, the celebrities on the pitch drew a handful of die-hard fans as well.
“I actually came to see Rivers Cuomo play,” admitted Kari McMullen, 34, with a blush and a giggle.
The Toronto resident had a tattoo of the Weezer logo etched onto her shoulder blade and said she was longing to meet the band’s lead singer.
McMullen said watching one of her favourite musicians sweat it out in cleats and a headband was almost as entertaining as watching him perform.
“It’s pretty fun.
“He’s a little sexy, so I like it,” she said, keeping her eyes on the field.