“Football has given me a voice; I want to use it to broadcast a message of peace”
“Football taught me everything. It changed my life. From my first games on the pavements of Abidjan until my last professional match in the United States last November, football has not only opened doors that I would never have dreamed of approaching, it has helped me to understand that sport can truly transform people’s lives, and bring them confidence and hope for the future.
The journey was great. But it hasn’t stopped yet. Although professional football is now a thing of the past for me, my commitment promoting sport for social good continues. I want to give it an even more far-reaching dimension. I aspire to keep enhancing life prospects of socially vulnerable youth through sport, wherever tensions and conflicts divide nations.
In becoming Vice-President of Peace and Sport last December, I expressed my desire to bring the message of peace through sport to a grass-roots level, in direct contact with communities. I will begin in March by going to Larnaca Bay, Pyla in Cyprus, one of the few villages on the island situated in the United Nations Buffer Zone. The place was not chosen by chance: Pyla remains the only village in the country inhabited by its two original Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. As a forerunner to the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (April 6), on March 19, with the support of the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, we will organize a football day based on the theme of friendship and dialogue to officially launch the 2019 #WhiteCard campaign.
Using the symbol of the #WhiteCard, this initiative will bring together players from the Nea Salamina Ammochostou FC team and Mağusa Türk Gücü FC to encourage the rapprochement of the two communities. The bi-communal event will also include children from the village of Pyla and their parents, as well as youngsters from the academies of the two partner clubs. The event will be attended by the most influential political leaders of Cyprus.
In Pyla, I’m going to talk about football of course. It’s the central point; the common denominator. I will discuss my career, my victories and defeats, and the lessons learned during my 20 years playing on pitches in several continents. Above all, I will talk about peace. I will explain that sport, by uniting people around a ball, a playing field or a running track, can break down barriers built by political, religious and racial antagonisms. Once again, I will recall my engagement as United Nations Ambassadors and the memory of the famous “Khartoum Appeal” in 2005, made with my friends from the Côte d’Ivoire team’s locker room. After qualifying for the World Cup, we called on Ivorians to put down their weapons and start dialogue. They listened to us.
This episode made a major mark not only my playing career, but my entire life. It strengthened my conviction that sport, in Côte d’Ivoire as elsewhere, can bring people together when everything else divides them. It showed me the way. Today, I want to continue this lifetime commitment and go even further. In Cyprus next month, then in the Democratic Republic of Congo later in the year for the Friendship Games. Football has given me a voice and I want to use it to carry our message of peace through sport around the world.