“Ivory Coast is in the middle of a civil war. After the country’s qualification for the World Cup, President Laurent Gbagbo acquiesced to the pleas of the Ivorian football federation and restarted peace talks. The country now enjoys a tense ceasefire, thanks solely to the team’s trip to Germany. The peace may not survive much longer than the World Cup, but any cessation in fighting is a reason to celebrate.”

Likewise, an article in The Nation by Dave Zirin & John Cox highlighted the Ivory Coast experience as a counterbalance to the frequent use of war-talk in sports by Americans — including by the largest U.S. Soccer fanclub — “Sam’s Army.” Zirin and Cox explain that “Other players in this tournament have painful contemporary reasons to think about war as something other than a game.” They continue:

“Ivory Coast has been wracked by civil war since 2002, and thousands of its 17 million citizens have perished. The Elephants, as the team is called, consists of players from all parts of the country, and is seen by many Ivorians as a unifying force. ‘Those from the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south play together, celebrate together, and show a positive image of Ivory Coast that is sorely lacking elsewhere,’ the BBC concluded in a recent report.

‘When we play all of Ivory Coast is happy,’ declared midfielder Yaya Toure. ‘There are many Ivorian citizens who are thinking about the World Cup, and they think that it can resolve many things…. Politics means we are divided, but I think football can sort that out.’ Another player said, ‘The Ivorian people are suffering a lot because of everything that is happening in the country. We owed it to ourselves to qualify for the World Cup, to give it as a gift to the people. We achieved our goal. Now it is up to the politicians to achieve their goal, to find an agreement or a solution to put an end to the [civil war.]’

Echoing the sentiments of many of his teammates, Toure expressed a desire to ‘bring peace through our play on the field.’ When Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup last year, young fans ran through streets of the capital yelling, ‘The war is over! The war is over!'”


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