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Unified and professional football in Bamako

Phil watches the world weather forecast on Matinal, a French TC channel, as we have our breakfast — half a baguette with butter and jam, the Malian standard. “We are in the hottest place in the world again today,” he muses. Driving across Bamako on a Saturday, windows down, Kassoum’s dashboard thermometer indicates 40 degrees. Why the obsession with the heat? We’re heading to the national stadium to play a game of football and we’re anxious, that’s why!

It’s not just any game. This one is with Special Olympics athletes, it is a game of Unified Football where athletes with and without intellectual disabilities play together on mixed teams. Our game is the curtain-raiser to the Malian first division game between FC Djoliba, reigning Malian champions and leaders of the Malian Premier League and visitors FC Duguwolofiila. Unlike the professional game, ours is thankfully only ten minutes each way.

Special Olympics athletes prepare for the gameSpecial Olympics athletes prepare for the game

As we arrive at Mali’s national stadium, the Stade de 26 Mars, the Special Olympics athletes are already getting ready to play in the game of Unified Football. Kits are donned and out we go. After 20 minutes of Unified Football in the punishing 45 degree heat, Andrew is coughing and struggling for breath.

Andrew struggles for breathAndrew struggles for breath

The game ends 1-1 and the teams pose for photos, hoping that the game has warmed the hearts of the spectators as much as it has their burning muscles.

The Unified Football teamsThe Unified Football teams

As always, people gather round to sign The Ball, whose original inscriptions are now lost beneath the deluge of subsequent signatures.

Signing of The Ball by the Malian SO familySigning of The Ball by the Malian SO family

And so to the main event. The teams come out onto the field. Phil and Andrew are asked to pose for photos with the Djoliba and Duguwolofiila captains, the referees and The Ball. However, the officials seem more worried about Andrew’s horn than they do about Phil’s Edna Everage impression.

Captains, officials and The BallCaptains, officials and The Ball
The Ball with Malian champions FC DjolibaThe Ball and reigning Malian champions FC Djoliba

We watch some of the game from our seats in the dignitaries area but we can’t resist the calling of the music. We drift away and spend most of the match in the stands with the FC Djoliba musicians.

FC Djoliba drummersFC Djoliba drummers

Music and football — when these two common languages come together, there’s always fun to be had.

Written by on Thursday, March 18th, 2010

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The Ball 2018 left England on 25th March 2018 and travelled to the World Cup in Russia.

The Ball 2014 kicked off from England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.