Revolutionary leaders such as Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara and Nelson Mandela all saw the potential of football to unite their nations. Football encourages solidarity and hard work, where in a game of two teams of eleven players they compete for the most points.
From the national team, to the smallest villages, football associations can transcend differences such as based on tribes and unite the nation. Football is also one of the most unifying activities worldwide.
It is only one of the many sports. Unity can be found in all forms of sport. It is always about unity in diversity.
Amilcar Cabral used football in rhetoric and training. He knew that football can be effective in uniting people, teaching them about determination and hardships, and used it to great effect to unite opposing ethnicities. He also spoke in terms of soccer games when he talked about the struggle, so the people (his own soccer club) against the colonizer (enemy soccer club).
Thomas Sankara once a week played football with his advisers and staff, dressed in short jeans.
Nelson Mandela used his support to the Sprinkboks, a white rugby club, to nurture unit among two divided camps.
I am sure there are much more strories to be found how football was used to nurture unity within the African revolutions.
Erik van der Zanden
Picture by Thomas Moore