Africa’s Soccer Tourney Takes Guinea’s Mind Off Ebola

January 20, 2015

Red, green and gold – Guinea’s national colors — filled the streets of the capital, Conakry, early this morning. Guineans of all ages proudly wore the colors on their T-shirts, headbands, dresses and shorts. Children, with their cheeks and forehead painted, ran around the street cheering, blowing whistles and waving their nation’s flags.

But by 3 p.m. the streets were dead.

Offices and businesses closed early — so that people could watch Guinea take on Ivory Coast in Africa’s premiere soccer competition, the Cup of Nations. Some went home while others headed to a nearby sports bar.

Inside the ramshackle hut with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, a few dozen men and women squeeze onto an assortment of benches, armchairs and stools — breaking Ebola’s cardinal rule about no contact and no touching.

But they’re too excited about soccer to remember the healthcare advice. All eyes are on the TV, which is broadcasting Guinea’s opening game against Ivory Coast.

Guinea scores, and cheers erupt. Soccer player Mohamed Yattara has just scored in the 36th minute. That put Guinea’s National Elephants, in white, ahead of Ivory Coast’s orange-clad Elephants (the team names are the same).

But you can’t quite get away from Ebola in Guinea. Excited fans chant, “FC Ebola, FC Ebola,” which translates to Ebola Football Club. They add in: “Ebola must go, Ebola must go!”

In the 72nd minute, Ivory Coast scores and a collective groan travels across the room. The Guinean supporters look deflated. They thought the player was offside, and the goal shouldn’t count. That’s how the match ends: a 1-1 draw.

“Oh well, we were hoping Guinea would win,” says fan Mohamed Conde. “But I’m really proud of my team.” And Guinea’s National Elephants still have a chance to advance in the tournament.

“Vive La Guinee et adieu Ebola,” he adds.

That’s “long live Guinea and out with Ebola.”

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