Football in Sudan falls victim to military escalation
On a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, Florent Ibenge, the coach of the leading Sudanese football club Al-Hilal SC, was focused on preparing his team for their upcoming match in the league title race. However, when he woke up the next morning, he found himself in a war zone.
The ongoing conflict between rival military factions in Sudan began on 15 April, and according to a UN agency, more than 700,000 people have been displaced as a result. The violence has resulted in over 600 deaths and 5,000 injuries, as battles continue between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group. Despite several attempts at achieving a stable ceasefire, the current outlook remains bleak.
Sadly, this is not the first time that wars and conflicts have forced footballers and coaches to flee for safety on the African continent. While the story of Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba’s role in brokering a ceasefire during the country’s civil war is well-known, other African footballers have also been impacted by political turmoil and strife.
In Liberia, the country’s civil war disrupted the careers of several talented players. George Weah, who later became Liberia’s president, had to flee the country in the late 1980s due to the conflict. His football career was put on hold until he was able to return in the mid-1990s. Other Liberian footballers, such as Christopher Wreh and James Debbah, also had to navigate the challenges of the war, with Wreh even joining a rebel group at one point in order to protect his family.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), football has been used as a tool for peace-building in the aftermath of conflict. The country’s national team, which was once a symbol of the government’s oppression, has now become a unifying force for the Congolese people. However, the country’s ongoing conflict in the eastern provinces has forced many players to flee their homes and abandon their careers.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has also been plagued by internal conflict since its inception. The country’s national football team has struggled to compete on the international stage due to the lack of resources and infrastructure. Many South Sudanese footballers have been forced to flee the country due to the violence, with some finding refuge in neighboring Uganda.
Despite the challenges, African footballers continue to inspire hope and resilience in their communities, using their talents and platforms to promote peace and unity in the face of adversity.