6 April 2018

streetfootballworld has long-appreciated the power of sport to promote positive messages and reunite fractured communities. To commemorate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace we delve into the archives to see how the world’s most popular sport, football and one of its star players, Didier Drogba, contributed to the peace process in the war-torn Ivory Coast.

 

In September 2002, the Ivory Coast descended into civil war as rival factions vied for control of the West African state amid the backdrop of heightened racial tensions. Bitter violence and fighting besieged the country until 2004 but the divisions continued to run deep, leaving society divided and the tensions remained. The country was effectively split in two, with a rebel-held Muslim north while the Christian south remained in the hands of the official government. Neither side was prepared to discuss a solution to the matter.

 

Meanwhile, the nature of football to endure all sorts of adversities continued as the Ivorian national team had been defying the odds. Despite the strained situation, the Ivory Coast had been able to produce a gifted crop of players and their hard work had put them within touching distance of a place at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. On 8th October 2005, the team travelled to Sudan knowing a victory would make history and the Ivory Coast would qualify for FIFA’s prestigious tournament for the first time ever.

 

On the night, Les Éléphants’ quality shone through as they ran out comfortable 3-1 winners but this momentous occasion was not one of jubilation for the players, who had their minds focused on the situation at home. As a television crew entered the players’ dressing room for post-match reaction, team-captain Didier Drogba instinctively grabbed a microphone and, surrounded by his team-mates, dropped to his knees as the pictures were beamed live across the continent. Far from addressing the game, Drogba took the opportunity to plead to the warring Ivorian factions to lay down arms and put the fighting behind them. Within a week, Drogba’s plea had been answered and the reconciliation process began. 

 

Drogba recognised the uniting force that football possesses as all Ivorians were able to put civil war factions to one side and come together under one banner through support of the national team. “We proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared objective,” he said on that now pivotal and historic night. He has since set up a foundation to support development projects in his country and is well aware of the influence his iconic status can have: “Experience has taught me that I can use my voice to bring about change and that I can be an example for others.”

 

This is just one of numerous examples of the way the world can be improved through football for good. The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is a perfect time to reflect on the notion that football can be more than a game, a common language that can be harnessed to change the world for the better and tackle the major social issues of our time. As Dider Drogba and his team-mates chanted in the dressing on that fateful night in Sudan:

 

“We want to have fun, so stop firing your guns.”

 
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