The players of the Democratic Republic of Congo have made a statement ahead of the Africa Cup semi-final against Côte d’Ivoire. The background is the fighting in the east of the country
When the first of two national anthems rang out in Abidjan on Wednesday evening, sport took a back seat. The players of the Democratic Republic of Congo did not sing along at the beginning, but covered their mouths with one hand and put two fingers of the other hand to their temples like a gun. The entire staff on the touchline, including French coach Sebastien Desabre, also performed the gesture. They only lowered their arms after around 15 seconds, after which some of the players sang the rest of the anthem. Some of the team also wore a black mourning ribbon on their arms.
As players and coaches confirmed afterwards, the background for this sign was the fighting in the east of the Central African country. According to residents, the rebel group M23 had recently attacked the strategically important town of Sake and driven its population to flee. According to eyewitnesses, bombs were dropped on the town. A United Nations spokesperson warned in a statement of a “regional explosion” and called for the rapid reinforcement of troops and security forces. Numerous armed groups have been active in the east of the country for some time now.
Sports minister calls for support
“We wanted to send a message to the whole world,” said Francois Kabulo Mwana Kabulo, the country’s sports minister, after the match, which was lost 1-0 to hosts Côte d’Ivoire. “We need a reaction from the international community, just like what happened in Ukraine and Palestine. It is an unjust rebellion. “
The team therefore wanted to take advantage of the significance of the event and asked the African Football Confederation (CAF) for permission to carry out the gesture and wear the mourning flag. The latter agreed. “I hope the message gets through because we need peace,” said Mwana Kabulo, who also wore mourning flags on his shirt.
Midfielder Charles Pickel, who grew up in Switzerland, also took a clear stance. “It’s a really big deal and nobody is looking,” he lamented. “It was a sign of our unity today, today that’s more important than the game. We wanted to show the world what’s happening there.” Carrying out the gesture was something “we all decided together”, Pickel continued. Coach Desabre said that the national team was “a symbol of national pride” in the DR Congo. “We wanted to take the opportunity today to draw attention to all the atrocities in the east of the country.”
The defeat meant that the DR Congo missed out on their first final appearance at the Africa Cup since winning their first and only title in 1968. The national team will therefore play their last match of the tournament on Saturday in the third-place match against South Africa.