Togo is safe, almost too safe. There is a police escort, ready to take me and The Ball to every event and there is a minder, sitting outside of my hotel room ready to protect The Ball from would-be thieves.
The Togolese government has got heavily involved in the Ball’s journey; we have met top dignitaries including the Prime Minister, and everyone is very concerned to make sure that The Ball doesn’t go missing in Togo. I imagine that the concern stems from the African championships in Angola in February and the machine-gunning of the buses carrying the Togolese football team. That issue is still a hot one in Togo and very politicized.
Losing The Ball in Togo on Togolese watch is not in their interests. Our philosophy is that The Ball must be played with as often as possible and by as many people as possible. The spirit of The Ball is about trust. Sure, the playing of The Ball to a stranger contains an element of risk. Yes, someone could try and steal The Ball but that is very unlikely. It is more likely that the person receiving The Ball will smile and play. The interactions we are having are overwhelmingly positive. These random encounters are what The Ball is all about.
Against the best intended advice I take The Ball to the Coca Cola sponsored event at the beach. A man on horseback rides The Ball up and down the beach.
Acrobats on stilts perform with The Ball
A woman carries The Ball in a basket on her head
The Ball is juggled in a Coca-Cola sponsored competition on a stage with a crowd in excess of 2000 people watching on.
During the juggling competition The Ball ends up in the crowd. Where is it? Panic sets in. Ohhhh, there it is…
And as the sun goes down young men and women dance freestyle with The Ball.
Put your hands up for The Ball
I like to play in the Unified Football events but there is no space for me this time. I try to convince the organizers that I’d be a good addition to one of the two starting line ups but the teams are picked, warmed up and ready to play.
Before kick off players on both teams give The Ball a guard of honour to welcome it onto the pitch.
I take my place in the small crowd assembled for the UNICEF sponsored match. The game unfolds and it is impossible to tell the Special Olympics athletes apart from the rest. All players on both teams are talented footballers and the quality of football is very good. Special Olympics athletes can play football as well as anyone.
The game ends at 1-1 and a penalty shoot-out is needed to separate the teams. The yellow team wins but both teams come together to celebrate as one and to sing and dance together. How often do you get to see that in football?
Many thanks to our partner the Goethe-Institut for donating some footballs.
This game was about having fun and about participating and about friendship. Sure, both teams try to win but losing is insignificant. Isn’t this the spirit of football?
Andrew and The Ball are taken to Hotel de Ville (City Hall) where Andrew tells the Mayor of Lomé that he, like anyone else, may sign The Ball but that there is a condition: he must head it or kick it first. The Mayor replies: “I have a head and I have a foot” and proceeds to head and kick The Ball before signing it.
And with no further prompting, save Andrew’s proud smiles, The Mayor continued:
“It is a pleasure and an honour to welcome you and your organisation Spirit of Football to Lomé and to receive The Ball of the World Cup in Lomé. I am honoured that you have chosen the city of Lomé and Togo on your route. The day you have arrived in Togo coincides with a day after the election and just before Easter, it is very good timing as we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Togolese independence. I am wishing you well and I hope that you feel at home in Africa. This ball that has been made in Africa, by Africa and for Africa is an honour for Africa and I wish that an African team will be world champion. But as they say — let the best team win. I wish you a welcome to Togo and as the Mayor of Lomé I am symbolically giving you the key to the city of Lomé so that you can open all doors here.”
— Mayor of Lomé
Their slogan is “United for the Development and Protection of the Rights of Children.” Our visit to rehabilitation centre of the NGO Ange (Angel) friends brings The Ball into contact with a new generation of children.
Andrew talks to Gabriel Muzzo, the director of Ange and finds out that Ange is supported by UNICEF and supports 300 street children in Lomé. Ange provides a stepping stone for the children, taking them off the streets and away from crime, drugs and other problems and helps them get their lives back on track and aims at reconnecting them to their families.
Andrew asks the Togolese Minister of Sport about the history of football in Togo. He calls Eloian Salo Kodjo Koffi, the National Director of Sport in Togo, who provides him with this answer:
“The history of football in Togo has had many ups and downs. A great deal of its early progress is due to the involvement of the army and of the Catholic community. But football in Togo didn’t really develop in any meaningful way until the 1940s and didn’t really take off until Togo participated in the African Championships in Brazzavillle, Congo in 1964, shortly after joining the African Football Federation, CAF.”
Comparing Togo with its neighbour Ghana brings up an interesting question. Namely, why did football begin in Ghana 40 years earlier than in Togo when the two countries neighbour each other and when their capitals are only a few hundred kilometres apart? To answer this question one needs to understand the differences in colonial influence. Ghana (formerly known as Gold Coast) was a British colony and entertained a form of government that gradually encouraged the playing of ball sports and with them interaction between the colonizers and the colonized. Some sports were kept for whites only — like cricket and golf — but football, the working class sport of Great Britain, was encouraged and played by all. The French administration throughout West Africa employed a different attitude altogether. They curtailed the playing of football and other sports with the locals. It didn’t last long, thankfully.
The next stop for The Ball is a private reception with the Prime Minister at his residence.
“Let me make it clear. This meeting was not planned but I had to make myself available for this because our government gives high importance to sports. It is not only the government but all of the Togolese people. And the government of Togo has an obligation to the well being of intellectually disabled people and to providing social welfare of those people. In 2008 the government set up a fund to support the welfare of mentally challenged people. I would like to thank Spirit of Football, Special Olympics and all partners of The Ball for coming to Togo. We are delighted that you chose Togo as a point of destination on your noble journey to South Africa. The government will try and do everything in its powers to make sure that sport is supported in Togo. I would like to encourage you in what you are doing. It is a noble cause. Thank you for coming to Togo and I wish you well in your continued journey.”
— Prime Minister of Togo, Gilbert Houngbo
“The spirit of football to me is very simple. It is to bring all of the world together in serving as a base for peace but also for development in reducing inequalities in our world.”
— Dovi Amewome, Director of Special Olympics Togo
“Let The Ball roll free through the streets of Lomé, let it bounce freely along Lomé’s beautiful beaches and be allowed to be kicked and signed by all citizens of Lomé.”
— Mr. Issa Amenuyan, Chairperson of Special Olympics Togo
Chester from DHL Ghana is at the wheel, driving The Ball, Amazing, the DHL team and Andrew to the Togolese border. Unusually, we are permitted to film at the immigration station and all the way across the border. When you have government support in Africa, anything is possible. The Ball is stamped out of Ghana and then in gets its Togo visa.
The Ball breathes a massive sigh of relief through its air-hole and seems proud of its newest stamps. On the Togolese side a party is going on; they have been waiting for The Ball for over an hour. DHL Staff, Special Olympics volunteers, many dignitaries and an expectant crowd are awaiting us.
We are caught up in the pandemonium; no one seems to know where to go. Traditional drummers and dancers, some on enormous stilts, accompany our delegation as we unveil The Ball in the DHL box to the crowd that has gathered.
The Ball’s police escort seems to know what to do. He recommends using white gloves to handle The Ball.
We are piled into a waiting car and led by the police escort, riding a huge, expensive BMW motorbike, to meet the Minister of Sport who is the first to sign The Ball in Togo after a bullet header — he was surely a footballer!