Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Importance of the Game

Two stories today give us a glimpse at the importance people place on football in Africa.

First comes this emotional story from the Sudan (pic, left), whose national problems have become an international cause.

Hundreds of screaming and dancing Sudanese fans welcomed their national team home after qualifying for their first African Nations Cup finals in 32 years.

Sudan beat Seychelles 2-0 in an away match on Saturday and even if these lose their last qualifying match against Group Four leaders Tunisia, they are effectively through to the finals in Ghana next year as one of the top three group runners up.

Thousands of supporters of the Nile Crocodiles met the team on arrival at Khartoum airport.

"This is not just a win for the team, but for all of the people of Sudan," defender Khalid Hassan Ali said, as the players emerged one by one to be engulfed by drumming, singing fans.

"I'm so happy I want to scream out "I am Sudanese" and die for my country," said student Abdel Salaam el-Sir.

"Normally the media talk about politics, but now this is a different side to Sudan, and we are proud," said al-Rashid al-Tayyib.

Sudan were champions in 1970 and the Confederation of African Football was founded in Khartoum in 1957.

Riot police fought off fans to allow players, who were carried aloft by dozens of people, to get into waiting cars.

"I was so happy I broke the television," screamed one labourer, draped in the Sudanese flag and shaking his shoulders in a triumphant traditional dance.

"There are no words to describe this feeling."

It's a beautiful story that illustrates the compassionate side of the game. Football allows people to feel diversion and pride in a place they call home, even though that place is going through divisive strife.

The next story comes from the BBC and involves Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who has pledged to assist Uganda unearth a new generation of African football stars.

The Manchester United ace has completed a three-day tour of the country at the invitation of Proline Soccer Academy.

Ferdinand had the rare chance of meeting Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni at the State House in Nakasero.

He vowed to help promote the activities of the academy to European clubs and also help in developing local talent.

"I am certainly going to help develop the Ugandan kids because they have the talent. I will help the academy," Ferdinand said.

"I would like to see Uganda produce players like Ivorian Didier Drogba and Ghana's Michael Essien in the future.

"I have come here to help the kids. That's the most important, to give them skills and inspiration of becoming important people and not only in football but in life as well."

President Museveni promised to help the Proline Soccer Academy by offering land to expand the facilities of the school.

He also vowed to waive taxes on goods being importing for purposes of developing football in Uganda.

Proline Soccer Academy is managed by former Ugandan international Mujib Kasule.

This is an important story on two fronts.
1 - It's wonderful that Ferdinand and his counterparts recognize the abilities of the African players. More and more, the Africans are being respected for their vast footballing knowledge. Ferdinand's star power will only help shed more light and more exposure on the continent's riches.

2 - President Museveni is waiving taxes on goods imported for the purpose of developing the game in his country. Can you imagine that happening in the United States? Bush waiving taxes for the development of baseball, for example? Or soccer even? It's an amazing move and another example of the sway the sport holds over some nations.

Amazing things happening in the world of soccer ...

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