Monday, December 11, 2006

The Street and The Ball

This touching film highlights five projects around the world where football has had a positive impact on children's lives. From the barrios of South America, to inner city London, with a bit of Kenyan slum thrown in for good measure. To appreciate the power of this film, it's important to understand the social context of the places featured. My only quibble is that the individual places could merit a film on their own, the glimpses are all too fleeting. Football, and sport in general can be a force for good, and this film demonstrates that. It was shown on BBC World as part of the Generation Next series held jointly with the World Service.

Medellin in Colombia, is synonymous with the two unrelated Escobars who died violent deaths; drug baron Pablo, and footballer Andres. Mathare Valley in Kenya is the embodiment of the modern African slum: grossly overcrowded, filthy, hopeless, deathly. The boys in East Jerusalem display the intractable nature of the Israel-Palestine issue, but also its hope. The Palestinian father, Atef Obid, expresses his defection from Fatah to Hamas, a conflict that's currently playing out on the streets of Gaza. But he also make a poignant and all too common remark about Israelis, he realised that Israelis aren't just soldiers but also ordinary people.

The image of young people playing and enjoying football is universal. The pitch may vary between red dust, dried out grass, astroturf, shoes, no shoes, shirts, skins, but the spirit is the same. The best moment for me was the girl player in Kenya. I remember going back to Nigeria one summer, where I spent many a dawn till dusk playing football on this pitch near the Masha end of Adeniran Ogunsanya in Suru-Lere. There was this girl we used to play with, who was so good no boy wanted to play against her. We all wanted to be on her team, so that we could tease the others about being torosed* by a girl. She matched us in every department, skill, speed, and the little she might have lacked in power, she more than compensated with committment. Anything a man can do...

*toros - aka nutmeg, ball through the legs. rather disgraceful.

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