Field of Play: Attraction of sport not lost in Liberia | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Attraction of sport not lost in Liberia

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 | 08:29 AM

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Perdita Felicien and Adam van Koeverden pose for photos in Clara Town, a suburban slum in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports) Perdita Felicien and Adam van Koeverden pose for photos in Clara Town, a suburban slum in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

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CBC Sports Weekend host Scott Russell discovers that sport has a role to play in war-torn Liberia, where Right To Play rebuilt a school and athlete ambassadors offer encourgement.

There is no sugar coating this one. Liberia, located on the Western hip of the African continent, is the most devastated place I have ever seen.

Rocked by 20 years of civil war, it is afflicted by corruption and danger at every turn. Life is fragile here and people exist in deplorable conditions. There is barbed wire framing burnt-out hulks of buildings in the capital city of Monrovia. Electric power for the whole country is tentatively sourced from generators run on diesel fuel. Row upon row of shacks teeter on mud foundations.

It is chaotic here.

LIVE BLOG: Right To Play in West Africa

"Welcome to the slum of West Point!" shouted a passerby as we wove our way through a maze-like corridor into the city's most notorious ghetto. With Canadian kayaker Adam van Koeverden and hurdler Perdita Felicien in the lead, our visit was to the urban children of West Africa ... children who once were lost souls.

300-wp1.jpg"When athlete ambassadors come here, it's proof that play is good for children," claimed Marie-Josephine Kora Thoma, who is Right To Play's ever-optimistic country manager in Liberia.

"The people in the communities get the message that sport is serious business."

Here, it was a grave playing field that greeted us, but as the mud flat opened up to reveal a multitude of kids from the Linda Glover Christian Foundation School, there was an encouraging sign. They were laughing, playing and holding hands in their clean and crisply pressed school uniforms.

Right To Play rebuilt their school and fashioned it out of concrete, replacing the hovel where the students once learned their lessons.

Attendance is up 75 per cent and the results are clear.

"It used to be that people thought that nothing good came from this community," said Benedict Seekey, who has worked here with Right To Play since 2006.

"It's West Point, but they call it Worst Point. Theft, drugs and child abuse are major concerns."

300-wp3.jpgStill, the attraction to the games and songs in the belly of the slum was undeniable, with a single soccer ball at the centre of a circle and the attendance of the athlete ambassadors providing plenty of encouragement.

"Just to bring a ball to this place causes tremendous excitement," Seekey noted. "The kids and coaches we work with are passionate about this community.

"That's the one and only strength we  have going for us."

Later, in another slum called Clara Town, the dark menacing clouds which decorated the rainy season here in Liberia, unleashed themselves.

Yet a soccer match featuring both boys and girls on a muddy pitch dotted by craters overflowing with water was even more unrelenting. The field had been upgraded by Right To Play, but the rains had taken their toll.


There was a twist in this game as males and females played on the same side, but only the women were allowed to score. The action was riveting and the skill of all the players of tremendous quality.

When the game was over, having been decided on penalty kicks, van Koeverden and Felicien presented brand new nets provided by Right To Play to replace the tattered twine which had draped the goal standards for far too long.

The boys and girls -- and the substantial crowd on the sidelines -- cheered with approval.

A teenaged player gave thanks to both sides, the sponsors and the entire community of Claratown for all that had happened that day.

As the rain subsided, it seemed all was not lost in Liberia.

Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay

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