Colombia’s FARC guerillas turn to football as route back into society

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A player lines up a free-kick in a semi-final clash at the Mesetas camp in southern Meta, one of 26 temporary installations set up to facilitate the reintegration into civilian life of more than 7,000 Farc members. Photograph: Carl Worswick

 

Now the guns are finally silenced after 53 years of conflict in Colombia, the Marxist Farc, formerly one of the most powerful and feared groups in the world, want to have a professional team

11 October 2017 | Carl Worswick| The Guardian

“A six-hour drive south of the Colombian capital, Bogotá, across scorched plains and through twisting passes stretched along high Andean peaks, a dozen men kick a battered football across a strip of land clogged with mud and stones.

On the sidelines a man slumped in a wheelchair clatters his prosthetic leg against the frame. A woman standing beside him howls at the referee. She is clutching a rabbit. A rifle peeps from the bundle of white fur.

As the rain begins to lash down, the mad kick-and-rush played at breakneck speed continues unabated. It’s an ugly spectacle and yet, for the 200-strong crowd in this war-weary corner of Colombia, the aesthetics are not a primary concern. Most are here to witness the first stuttering steps in a remarkable and historic transformation: that of the world’s first professional football team made up of former guerrilla fighters.

A year ago everybody was still at war but last November a peace deal was signedwith the government and the western hemisphere’s longest-running conflict was brought to an end. For the left-wing Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia guerrilla group, or Farc, the Marxist struggle has since taken a new direction and football is playing a leading role.

“Football has always been very popular within the Farc and so we decided to start our own professional team,” Jeison Yepes says. “Everybody’s excited, we’re all talking about it.”

Yepes is the president of the Farc’s sports committee at the Mesetas camp, one of 26 temporary installations set up under the watch of the United Nations to facilitate the reintegration back into civilian life of more than 7,000 Farc members.

Weekend tournaments hosted throughout Colombia at different Farc camps have helped get former guerrilla fighters involved in sport and tap into a burning enthusiasm for football. These events are also serving to identify potential players.

“There are 16 teams playing in this tournament and so the idea is to start looking at talented players with a view to selecting one or two for regional trials,” Yepes says. “The very best from every region will go on to form the team.”

Hundreds of miles south-west in the war-plagued Cauca region, it’s a similar story. Every weekend over the last several months, male, female and kids’ teams have been competing in Farc-organised tournaments. Perhaps most importantly after five decades of war these sporting events are also helping to heal wounds and bring communities together.

“The Farc have several teams competing here at La Elvira but we also have sides from local Afro-Colombian communities, indigenous teams and mixed sides made up of the Farc and civilians,” says a former combatant Julian Caballero, who was once on the books of the top-flight Colombian team Deportivo Cali. “Some of the players on my team travel eight hours every weekend to be here.”

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