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The below is a guest post from colleagues in our Special Olympics Africa regional office.  Didier Drogba is arguably one of the world’s most famous athletes – at least in the sport of soccer (football).  It’s amazing that he was recently able to spend time supporting our Special Olympics Côte d’Ivoire Program!

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Didier Drogba is a world famous Ivorian footballer who currently plays as a centre forward for Shanghai Shenhua. He is the captain and all-time top scorer of the Côte d’Ivoire national football team (Ivory Coast); but is best known for his career at Chelsea, and has scored more goals for Chelsea than any other foreign player and is currently Chelsea’s fourth highest goal scorer of all time.

Drogba is also credited with playing a vital role in bringing peace to his country. After Côte d’Ivoire qualified for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba made a desperate plea to the combatants, asking them to lay down their arms, a plea which was answered with a cease fire after five years of civil war. Drogba later helped move an African Cup of Nations qualifier to the rebel stronghold of Bouake; a move that helped confirm the peace process. In September 2011, Drogba joined the Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue Commission as a representative to help return peace to his home nation. His involvement in the peace process led to Drogba being named as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine for 2010.

On 24 January 2007, Drogba was appointed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a Goodwill Ambassador. The UNDP were impressed with his previous charity work and believed that his high profile would help raise awareness on African issues. Drogba’s charity work continued when, in late 2009, he announced he would be donating the £3 million endorsement fee for the construction of a hospital in his hometown of Abidjan. This work was done through Drogba’s recently created “Didier Drogba Foundation” and Chelsea announced they too would donate the fee for the deal toward the Foundation’s project. Drogba decided on building the hospital after a recent trip to the Ivorian capital’s other hospitals, saying “…I decided the Foundation’s first project should be to build and fund a hospital giving people basic healthcare and a chance just to stay alive.”

Drogba’s continued dedication to his country was made evident in a recent visit (June 2012) to Abidjan to support a Gala Football Day for a national celebration of Disability Day. An event organised by Special Olympics Cote d’Ivoire in partnership with the Didier Drogba and The Kalou Foundations. Drogba was the guest of honour at the event which was also attended by Mrs. Raymonde Goudou, the Minister of Family, Women and Children, Mr. Sidy Diallo, President Ivorian Football Federation (FIF), Mr. Koffi ABOA, Director of National Sports Office and member of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics Cote d’Ivoire, Mr. Bert Koenders, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN in Côte d’Ivoire, and Mr. Lamouchi, the National Coach for Cote d’Ivoire, amongst others.

The football event featured a match between the two Unified Sports teams, male and female, that Special Olympics Cote d’Ivoire will be sending to South Africa in October to compete in the regional qualifier for the Special Olympics Unified Cup in Rio.

A Special Olympics Africa representative travelled to Cote d’Ivoire to meet with Drogba and to personally thank him for his support of Special Olympics. He was also invited to participate in the Unified Sports Celebrity Match taking place at the regional qualifier and has indicated his willingness to play if his schedule allows.

Drogba’s presence at the event was a dream come true for our Special Olympics athletes who could not believe their eyes when their national hero appeared on the field to greet them individually before their match began.

The match itself was closely contested and soon had the crowd giving enthusiastic support. Drogba appeared on national television in a public awareness campaign prior to the event to promote Special Olympics and to encourage the public to attend the event. The event was widely covered by the national media and generated enormous awareness for Special Olympics Cote d’Ivoire!

 World-famous footballer Didier Drogba shows his support for Special Olympics Côte d’Ivoire athletes

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