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
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!
“Pomp and pageantry will welcome you in Lome tomorrow and we need to create some magic around The Ball”, says DHL’s PR guru Sammy Duodu. The Ball is going to meet the Togolese Minister of Sport in an official ceremony at the border. Sammy sources a polystyrene box and decorates it with DHL tape, a DHL sticker and lines it with comfortable yellow silk material to provide extra comfort.
Amazing, (yes, his real name!), is a freelance media expert hired by DHL to help out in Ghana. He assists with filming, logistics and setting up lots of TV appearances. The Ball is all over the press in Ghana and we find out that Ghanaians are mad about football and very interested in The Ball.
The Ball was injured and rushed to hospital in the Ivory Coast. In the intensive care station it received a bandage and a telling off and it was told in no uncertain terms to rest. But rest is one thing that this ball cannot do. The Ball MUST be played in countless games of football all the way to South Africa. It cannot stay in bed. The referees will be waving play on until we get to Nairobi, where The Ball will be re-stitched in the same place it was hand stitched in January by Bernard at Alive and Kicking’s stitching centre.
Let The Ball roll.
A few hours kip after that exhausting 46 hour train ride and we’re all set to meet up with Ancilla Smith, Special Olympics Africa’s football project manager, who has been tirelessly organizing their involvement in The Ball’s journey to Johannesburg for the best part of a year and a half.
She has flown in especially for the Côte d’Ivoire event because it is a premier programme in Africa for Special Olympics. The Ball is only in town for a few days but Charles Takouet and the folks at Special Olympics have put together an amazing schedule which leaves little time for anything else, sleep included. It all starts with a press conference at the Ministry of Sport.
Not being able to speak much French, Andrew leaves the talking to Phil. It’s hard to get across the essence of The Ball in a second language, but thankfully Phil’s explanation of The Ball and its mission seems to impress the Ivoirian journalists.
The Ball arrives in Ouagadougou to find that a meeting has been scheduled with the Minister of Sport, M. Jean-Pierre Palm. The meeting has been arranged by Special Olympics Burkina Faso (SOBF) to welcome The Ball to the country and introduce it to the national authorities.
We are slowly beginning to understand and appreciate the rituals and formalities of these official events. They are a great opportunity for everyone involved to get to know one another — both personally and professionally — and for a real dialogue and a constructive exchange of views to take place.
When The Ball is passed, whether in the street, on the field or in the boardroom, a connection is made. The Ball feels honoured to meet the Minister and hopes that the dialogue that has been opened will lead to greater opportunities for Special Olympics athletes in Burkina Faso.
Next up is a press conference in association with the Burkina Faso Football Federation (BFFF) at the National Stadium, the Stade du 4-Août. It was very well attended, with a big turnout of representatives from the media.
Although Burkina Faso have not qualified for the World Cup itself, the press is receptive to the connection with the tournament that The Ball represents. The connection is an unofficial one, but The Ball’s journey is very real. It reminds people that football can be a powerful catalyst in spreading the message of inclusion — and that the programmes that Special Olympics run are the very embodiment of the spirit of the beautiful game.
Phil has been practising a song about The Ball called “This ball is our ball” based on Woodie Guthrie’s famous tune for the people of the United States: “This land is our land”. He performs it for the first time to a live audience. Malian’s love their music and Phil ain’t half bad. The Ball certainly helps to break the ice at such events and Phil’s music adds to the fun.
But the star of this show was the President of Special Olympics, Mama Garba Tapo who called the press to atttention about the problems facing children with special needs in Mali. He spoke directly to the press: “Without your support, nothing is possible.”
After several questions from the press about The Ball we talk about the project with the Vice President of the MFF Monsieur Toure. I ask him if we would be able to meet the famous Salif Keita, dubbed “The Black Pearl of Africa” by the press in Valencia. He is one of Africa’s footballing legends and perhaps the first sub-Saharan African footballer to make it big in Europe. Indeed, there is a brilliant french film entitled Le Ballon D’or based on his life. “No problem,” says Monsieur Toure. A meeting with the man himself is organised for the next day.
Kadi from DHL is our designated driver and translator for our press conference with the Minister of Sport and Special Olympics. Her boss, Djelika, reminds her that punctuality is vital on this occasion. Kadi is, she freely admits, prone to tardiness — join the club, Kadi.
To her credit, she arrives right on time in her pick-up truck and we are also just about ready to go. Phil climbs into the passenger seat and Andrew leaps on the back. It’s our first morning in Bamako traffic; an interesting experience. Old European cars in the designated car lanes and new Chinese mopeds and motorbikes in the bike lanes. We pass a huge sign hanging outside a government ministry saying “Ride bikes for a cleaner Bamako.” Not a bad idea, but a seemingly hopeless cause. Bamako is highly polluted, with no regard for laws on emissions (if indeed there are any) and traffic congestion is out of control. To top it all, there seem to be more and more people moving to the city.
As we cross the Niger River and head into town, Andrew has our trusty Sony video camera (kindly lent to us by Africa10) in his hand, snapping up everything in sight. He quickly finds out that people are very wary of visitors filming them. It’s a common sentiment in poorer countries around the world, where people think their image might be exploited by the photographer, perhaps appearing on a postcard or in a magazine. As we near our destination, we are confronted by locals pointing at the camera, indicating clearly that filming them is not okay. We can understand their point of view — although these scenes look exotic to us, to them this is normality. In our defence, we feel that we’re not just taking photos away, we’re also bringing something with us: The Ball.
We arrive at the Carrefour des Jeunes cultural center, we are met by Ensemble Instrumental, a musical group paid by the government to perform at state occasions. Special Olympics athletes and administrators are in the courtyard to greet us as the band steps the music up a notch.
There are more than ten of them in the band: five or six dancers, one man on marimba, two guys on talking drums, a singer and a djembe player. The Ball lands in the middle of the group and Phil jumps on the microphone to add his voice to the mix.
The press conference that follows includes an official presentation of The Ball to the representative of the Minister of Sport, Mr. Morike Traore, words of welcome from the president of Special Olympics Mali, Mr. Mama Garba Tapo and Salif Moulin Diallo, the head of the Paralympic movement in Mali.
The Chinese Ambassador joins us on the podium: from construction through to sport, the Chinese are not missing a trick in West Africa. We stay for a quick TV interview and then we’re on our way again — a little bit wiser about local fears as well as local hopes.
Next up: visa training Burkina Faso-style, followed by a personal audience with the Governor of Bamako. A flavour of just one day in the life of The Ball 2010. Stay tuned.