Welcome, Côte d’Ivoire!

Welcome, Côte d’Ivoire!

After a tricky visa process, a delayed DHL delivery, a missed flight, and a 15-hour journey, the Ivory Coast team arrived in Cardiff. Needless to say, the West African street soccer team’s journey hasn’t been without its hitches. But, having only arrived 24 hours ago and with only one game in, the team are kicking, passing, saving, and scoring with already 16 goals bagged.

Geographical and bureaucratic journeys aside, the team’s 17-year-old player Richard Kone from Abidjan generously shared a bit more about his own past, present, and future football journey.

“I have been playing football since a young child. Football is my passion. I just love to play. I don’t think of much else but football at the moment. I think it has helped me to become a bigger person and it has given me the opportunity to travel abroad: first time on a plane and first time abroad for me.

“I was living on the street because I had some problems with my parents because I am homosexual. A friend of mine introduced me to the president of the street soccer association (Don’t Forget Them Association) in Ivory Coast. They said to me if I trained every day and worked hard I would be accepted into the programme and potentially selected to come to the Homeless World Cup.”

The Don’t Forget Them Association uses sport to reintegrate: homeless or formerly homeless adults, street children, and youth; people displaced by war; prisoners; and others, like the LGBT community, who are dealing with extremely difficult situations.

Although it is not illegal to be gay in Ivory Coast, societal stigmatisation of homosexuality is widespread, with people being subject to disownment, beatings, imprisonment, verbal abuse, humiliation, and extortion by family members, the public, and the police.

Disownment led to Kone’s experience of homelessness. “In Ivory Coast it isn’t easy at all being homeless. Some people won’t talk with you when you try and ask for a little bit of help or a little bit of money. They ignore you, some people get beaten up. It is terribly difficult being homeless in my country.”

On speaking about the present and future, Kone smiles modestly. “Just before coming here I reconciled with my mother. I would like to be successful at the World Cup. Apart from that, I would like to go back to school, because I didn’t have that chance with the problems I had with my parents, and maybe become a lawyer or doctor, who knows …”

Words: Deborah May
Images: Daniel Lipinski / Soda-Visual