How A Soccer Match Ended The Ivory Coast Civil War

From Vanity Fair.

A single soccer match achieves what five years of combat and negotiations could not: an apparent end to Ivory Coast's civil war. The man who brought the warring sides together was not a politician or a gun-toting strongman, but Didier Drogba, the star striker for Ivory Coast.

For nearly five years, Ivory Coast had been divided in two: rebel-held North, government-loyal South. But on a tour of the country in March, Drogba stunned his fellow Ivorians by proposing that the Madagascar game be played in Bouaké, the capital of the rebellion. North and South, unable to reconcile their differences through battle or peace talks, would set aside their guns and come together for a soccer game. And Drogba, already an international star, would become, in the eyes of Ivorians, something of a deity.

Geoffrey Baillet, the spokesman for the Ivorian minister of sports, leaning on a rail, watching the match. "We, the politicians, we went to the best universities; we're the intellectuals, the supposed leaders of the country," he said. "But when it came to making peace, we failed. It's a group of soccer players that brought us together. Didier Drogba came from nothing. Now he's a worldwide star and a hero for us. He's done a great thing for his country."

"It was the best thing that's ever happened to me," Drogba said. "It was more than soccer. To see everyone come together like that, only for a game. It shows how soccer can unite people. Sports in general can do this. Maybe only sports."

He went on. "We, the Elephants, all we did was our duty as soccer players, our obligation as Ivorians. We wanted Ivorians to share our dream and see it realized—the return of peace to Ivory Coast. The most moving thing was the national anthem. All the stadium was singing and it was the first time that the two armed forces were together, face-to-face. That was the best moment of my last several weeks."


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