June, 2006
Vol. 5, Number 6
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This Month's Article

Soccer Diplomacy: The World Cup Hopes of the Côte d’Ivoire

Despite being shaken by a civil war, the entire country danced for two days following Ivory Coast's World Cup qualification. A successful tournament might help the divided nation to reconcile. (2 June 2006 Spiegel)

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) over 35 years ago it was very different from the torn country it is today. Since 1999, the country has been mired in coups, rebellions and ethnic conflicts and since September 2002 it has been cut in half by civil war and its economy is in shambles. In the post-colonial 60’s the concept of nationhood and civil government had not yet entered the consciousness of all Ivorians. Tribal affiliation, language and traditions were most important as well as the day-to-day concerns of life. However, peace, prosperity, mobility and a culture of hospitality prevailed. The name of the one daily newspaper, “Fraternité Matin” (literally “The Brotherhood Morning”) was an apt slogan for the Côte d’Ivoire, and the father of Ivorian independence, president Félix Houphouët-Boigny, was viewed by all tribes as “the old man” a term of respect, authority and endearment. National politics was conducted starting from traditional village councils and worked its way up to the Senate. Boigny’s cabinet had representatives of all the ethnic groups.

Since the very survival of the Côte d’Ivoire was put at risk with the coup of 1999, it wasn’t until the “Eléphants,” the national soccer team (and all but extinct national symbol) had the possibility to qualify for the World Cup soccer this year, that a movement towards disarmament and reconciliation between the opposing forces in their civil war began. This was not a coincidence, but rather a reflection of the national psyche — echoing the goal of the national team, self-proclaimed ambassadors of peace. As reported by IRIN

The five key players in Cote d’Ivoire’s conflict have renewed their commitment to peace efforts after holding their first face-to-face talks at home since war broke out more than three years ago.

While there were few concrete agreements, Tuesday’s four-hour meeting behind closed doors broke new ground and brought fresh hopes of a breakthrough in stumbling efforts to reunify the West African nation, divided between a rebel-held north and government south since 2002. (1 Mar 2006 IRIN)

I remember thinking in 1970 that soccer was the first sign of national identity to surface in post-colonial Côte d’Ivoire. Beside the fact that almost every village had a makeshift soccer field where barefoot boys would chase an improvised “ball” over gravelly red earth, I heard partisans “argue” the merits of the two most popular contenders for the Coupe de Côte d’Ivoire, ASEC and Africa Sport, much like our kids argue about the merits of teams vying for the World Series or Superbowl. This was a loyalty that transcended one’s ethnic identity.

When I look at the family names of the Eléphants (Drogba, Dindane, Touré, Akale, Zokora, Kalou, Kouassi, Koné, Keïta, Eboué…) I see the names of diverse tribal and geographical groups, the ones currently fighting each other. It truly is a national team, and (ironically) is coached by a Frenchman, Henri Michel. Michel has collected the best Ivorian players who play on teams all over Europe. The symbolism of all this is a huge unifier for Ivorians and has finally given them some hope.

Whether or not the Eléphants win or lose in the games of the World Cup. They have won a diplomatic victory by pushing the peace process forward in their country. With so much international attention focused on the Côte d’Ivoire because of their soccer team, and the vision of unity it presents for Ivorians, the leaders must pursue peace and reconciliation.

The world ought to take note of the symbolism of the Ivorian experience. It is really a tragedy when a peaceful country with such promise crashes into the chaos of hatred and divisiveness. This little country is a case study of a contagious political illness infecting much of the world. When there is seemingly no basis for reconciliation, the healing factor turns out to be celebration. Sport may be a metaphor for healthy and respectful competition; for teamwork and abiding to commonly accepted rules; for striving to excel and celebrating achievement. So-called “civilized” countries need to use the model of sportsmanship in conducting domestic and international relations. In a world torn by conflict, “soccer diplomacy” may be a valid passion.

© 2006 Richard Sidy

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Related Articles:

The Tour de France — Diplomacy in Sport
Hope for the Future
Series on Leadership
Series on Global Consciousness
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?

I Know I'm Not Alone — the wisdom of Machael Franti

Related Poems:

Making Friends
Take Heart
March Madness


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Archives 2005
Volumn 4
January: "Standing up for Humanity"
February: "The Wake of Disaster" – a poem
March: "Unity in Diversity
April: "Life is Calling"
May: "Entertainment" – a poem
June: "Thought and Imagination" part 1
July: "Thought and Imagination" part 2
August: "Imagination and Healing"
September: "Malice or Neglect? – Lessons of Katrina"
October: "Protecting Children"
November: "Intelligent Design or Evolution?"
December: "Building with one hand, destroying with the other"
Archives 2006
Volumn 5

January: "Conflict, Harmony, and Integrity"
February: "Satyagraha or Soul-force and Political Change"
March: "I Know I'm Not Alone - Wisdom of Michael Franti"
April: "Human Programming and Conflict Part I"
May: "Human Programming and Conflict Part II"
June: "Soccer Diplomacy"
July: "Sustainable Development is Nature's Way
August: "Parallel Universes"
September: "The News is not New"
October: "Legalizing Torture"
November: "Living Without an Enemy"
December: "Fast Food is really Slow Food"

Archives 2007
Volumn 6

January: "State of Fear"
February: Criminal Justice - "The Powerful Over the Weak"
March: "Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival"
April: "March Madness"
May: "No Child Left Behind" Leaves Many Teachers Behind
June: "Personal Ecology"
July: Criminal Justice - "The Ethic of Custodianship"
August: "Exploring the Mind - part 1"
September: "Exploring the Mind - part 2: The Poetic Mind
October: "How Much Pain Can We Stand?"
November: "When Languages Disappear"
December: "Is it Enough to be Tolerant?"

Archives 2008
Volumn 7

January: "Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future "
February: "Beyond the Bush Years"
March: "The Imaginary Economy - Part I
April: "The Imaginary Economy - Part II
May: Questions from Prison
June: "iGods and Connectivity"
July: "Energy Independence"
August: "Tribalism and the 2008 Elections
September: "Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice"
October: "Have We Been Willing Slaves?"
November: "Are We Ready for the Future?"
December: "Are we done learning from pain?"

Archives 2009
Volumn 8

January: "Awakening"
February: "When Sacrifice is no Sacrifice"
March: "The Good New Days"
April: "The Power of Metaphor"
May: "The Conflict of Mythologies"
June: "The Time is Right"
July: "The New Anarchy"
August: "The Art of Living"
September: "Outrage"
October: "Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?

November: "Effect of the manufacturing culture on the American Psyche"
December: Who are the Real Game Changers?

Archives 2010
Volumn 9

January: The Music of Place
February: Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
March: Sense of Place, Sense of Self, Sense of Humanity
April: Why Do People Serve?
May: Decentralizing Food and Energy
June: Beyond Reading and Writing — Ecological literacy
July: Organization or Organism?
August: Fear and Cynicism = “Inter-fear-ance”
September: Are we afraid of our "Better Angels?"
October: Choosing Our Battles
November: Meeting the Need
December: A Living Canvas

Archives 2002: Vol. 1, Numbers 1-12
Read past articles including:
Hope for the Future
Six Part Series on Science and Religion
First Three Parts of the Series on Leadership
Archives 2003: Vol. 2, Numbers 1-12
Read past articles including:
Series on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society

Art and Politics
Living the Good Life

Teaching Teens
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Archives 2004: Vol. 3, Numbers 1-12
Read past articles including:
Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness
Is "Liberal" a Dirty Word?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All
Poetry Diplomacy Science and Religion  Teen Help
Archives 2002 Archives 2003 Archives 2004
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