World Cup to change Angola’s image

Their place at the World Cup soccer finals could change all that and although few people expect the south-west African nation to progress beyond the group stages in Germany, that does not matter one jot. Simply qualifying for the first time in their history has filled Angolans with a sense of pride and patriotism not felt through decades of civil war and centuries of colonisation, and it offers promise of what the country can achieve on its own if it puts its mind to it. While Angola is rich in oil and diamonds, it is poor in almost everything else, with most of its 13 million people living on less than US$2 a day and one child in four likely to die from a preventable disease before their fifth birthday. Yet even the poorest shanty towns on the outskirts of the capital Luanda are peppered with national football shirts, and the most ramshackle of taxi buses proudly display the red, black and yellow colours of Angola in the back window. “Everyone here is so proud,” said a beaming Guido Siolengue, administrator with the Luanda Urban Poverty Programme (LUPP). “We never imagined that we could get so far in football, that we would be part of such a big competition.” Angola is ready to show off on a world stage, and while its football may not be up there with the likes of Brazil, this is a perfect opportunity to do some image-boosting in other areas. “Today when you speak about Angola, you don’t speak only about war, you speak about football as well,” national coach Oliveira Goncalves told Reuters recently. “Many journalists who come to Angola to see our football and meet me and the players conclude that Angola is a country with huge potential. They are right. Angola will get better on all levels in the coming years,” he added. Colonised by Portugal for 400 years, then plunged into war and assisted by aid organisations and the United Nations ever since, there is some perception that the country is unable to stand on its own two feet. There is still a lot to be done on the road to recovery, and the country will need foreign partnerships for a long time to come, but progressing to the finals of soccer’s grandest contest has lifted confidence and galvanised the population. “It was Angola who qualified for the World Cup; it was an Angola who did it alone and I will be the only coach of an African team in the World Cup who comes from the country they coach,” Goncalves said. “This shows that Angola has the capacity and the competency. If we can go to the World Cup as Angolans, it is clear that we can work in other areas as Angolans,” he added. The finals in Germany will afford Angola more positive media attention than it has had in living memory, something the authorities are eager to capitalise on. One of the tasks of Inacio Olim, marketing manager for the Angolan Football Federation (FAF), is to project an upbeat image of all things Angolan, and the “team” for Germany includes Angolan chefs, musicians, dancers and businesspeople. “This is an ideal opportunity to sell the Angolan economy, Angolan culture and to show everyone who we are,” he said. “The images you see on television and in newspapers are always negative, but there are very good things happening here. We want to demonstrate that Angola is not a lost country, but a country of hope and victory,” he added. Angola’s participation is also a chance for its citizens at home to reconcile their differences and think about building a better future ‘ together. “Football crosses all boundaries ‘ social, political and religious,” said Jose Luis Prata, the vice president of FAF. “It’s also good for the health of the country. It makes people come together, to forget their problems, and it keeps the young kids healthy and active and away from alcohol, drugs and crime,” he added. A new radio soap opera, “O Jogo” (The Game), is to air on respected station Radio Ecclesia this week and is one of scores of initiatives capitalising on the football theme. “O Jogo” follows Anacleto, a 20-year-old Luandan street seller who is torn between his love of soccer and the lure of making a fast buck in a violent street gang. His plight is not uncommon in the capital, where many youngsters, out of work and frustrated, turn to crime to make ends meet. The show aims to encourage Angolans to feel hope for the future, become more productive and dispel the idea that there is little in the way of prospects for youth. “We chose football because it represents Angola coming together as a nation,” said Heather Kulp, country director of Search for Common Ground (SFCG), an international non-governmental organisation, and the brains behind the show. “It’s a natural issue of solidarity and reconciliation,” she added. SFCG, which promotes peace-building and long-term post-war reconciliation, believes football can be used to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots and to unify a country torn apart by war for so many years. Reflecting on the euphoria that erupted when Angola qualified last October, Kulp believes that football will continue to unite and inspire the population, regardless of how Angola perform in Germany. “Who would ever have thought that Angola would make it to the World Cup? It is a fairytale. But it shows that with dedication, discipline and sacrifice, you can achieve anything,” Kulp said. “The Angolan football team demonstrated that the impossible is possible. That is a message we want to convey to all Angolan youth,” she added. ‘ Reuters.

June 2006
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