“It was unlike anything we had seen here before. People from all over the region came here to watch the tournament,” said Abdramane Cissé, describing the Football Tournament for Peace in Gao, Mali, organized by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and its Malian partner Collectif Cri de Coeur. “Men and women from ethnic groups who could not see eye to eye were embracing one another for each goal scored. It was truly a sight to behold. Who would have thought that a simple goal could have such effect on people?” Cissé is a member and the regional youth director of les Patrouilleurs, a youth group in Gao. In July, the government’s violent response to a les Patrouillers march protesting the appointment of interim authorities in Gao left three young people dead.
The football tournament sought to promote peace and stability in Gao by raising awareness of national reconciliation and justice initiatives and to encourage a culture of peace, tolerance and respect for diversity.
When a mix of separatists and terrorist groups attacked and occupied large swaths of the country in 2012, Gao was the first region to be occupied. It has been divided along ethnic and community lines ever since. The football tournament sought to promote peace and stability in Gao by raising awareness of national reconciliation and justice initiatives and to encourage a culture of peace, national reconciliation, tolerance, and respect for diversity. It also provided an opportunity to inform Malian people on the danger of fundamentalism and ways to combat religious fanaticism and to promote inter-Malian dialogue through a participatory and inclusive process in northern Mali.
Teams from the eight districts of the urban area of Gao competed for four weeks, from Aug. 20 through Sept. 18, 2016. Large crowds of spectators braved the heat to enjoy the games. Nine local radio stations broadcast the games live, along with messages of peace, reconciliation, and justice.
The highlight of the tournament was the final. Nearly 6,000 people participated in or watched the game and the ceremony, which was marked by a parade of teams and artistic performances. The Prefect of Gao Abdoulaye Coulibaly, the Second Deputy Mayor Bagna Touré, and ABA ROLI Country Director Lury Nkouessom served as co-chairmen and presided over the final game.
In the final match, the team of Sanèye defeated the team of Aljannabandia to win the trophy for the Football Tournament for Peace. All participating teams were awarded prizes, including for fair play.
“This is a first in the region,” said Cissé. “We have experienced war, amputations, various atrocities ... this football tournament allows youth to erase this dark picture; it is the best way to promote peace.”
Participants and stakeholders agreed that the true winner was the people of Gao. Aly Maiga Badi, the president of the consultative committee of Gao traditional leaders, said “it's been more than 20 years that I have not stepped in a football stadium ... but what I have seen today has overwhelmed me. I congratulate the organizers and partners for initiating this tournament.”
ABA ROLI’s program in Mali is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
To learn more about our work in Mali, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.