It is Wednesday afternoon in Ivory Coast, the country where we’ve been told that soccer can end wars. And here in Abidjan, tucked behind a row of concrete homes decorated with clotheslines and satellite dishes, we have a staging ground for just the sort of scene that draws foreign sports reporters to town. Teenagers nod their heads to the French hip-hop bleating from their cell phones. Old men huddle together, sharing a patch of shade. Orange Peugeot taxis belch exhaust to be inhaled by the motorcyclists who trail behind them. And right there, on the large dirt clearing that sits in the center of it all, there are children playing soccer on a former battlefield.
Scenes like this evoke a famous legend about Ivory Coast: During the mid-2000s, this neighborhood, Yopougon, played host to some of the worst violence in this country’s civil war. Yet that war ended in 2007, thanks in large part to the unifying force of the Ivorian national soccer team and the desperate pleas from Didier Drogba, Les Elephants’ striker and the country’s biggest star.
Or so the story goes.
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