Colombian indigenous turn backs on arms for soccer

This group of robust Colombian indigenous people are lucky to avert their usual fate of being easy targets for forced recruitment by rebels, as they choose a career in sports instead. They have chosen to represent their country and participate in the Indigenous Copa America between 16 and 25 July in Chile.

(Soundbite) John Jairo Diaz, Technical Assistant of Indigenous Football Team of Colombia
“In principle, there are 28 players who were selected from 80 teams nationwide. We have seen that they are well prepared. Things are going better and we are not at a level as low as I thought.”

Decades of civil war in Colombia have claimed almost 220,000 lives, and the indigenous youth are the most vulnerable to be enrolled by the so-called revolutionaries hiding in the mountains who always carrying out attacks and explosions in urban areas.

(Soundbite) Juan Pablo Gutierrez Gonzalez,
International Delegate of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC)
“We are realizing that indigenous youth are being increasingly subjected to forced recruitment (by the rebels). Around 40 percent of the indigenous are athletic talents but have never been given the opportunity to show their capabilities.”

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, abbreviated to ONIC, conducted a study, which shows that 70 percent of the country’s indigenous people are under 25 years old, which is a total of 1,400,000 people.
The ONIC established a soccer tournament for the indigenous people two years ago and altogether 80 teams have gathered under its banner from most of the Andean country ‘s regions .
With more indigenous youth joining the tournament, the rebels have lost a main source of new blood, partly contributing to the long-drawnout peace process.
The national indigenous team trains twice a day. By becoming stronger day by day, they not only hope to win the Indigenous Copa America, but also yearn for the chance to join the professional group.

(Soundbite) Alejandro Contreras Victor Mesa, Indigenous Footballer
“We hope that professional football can notice us and take us into account. Many Indians are talents but not taken into account. However, with the help of ONIC, we are still the hopefuls.”

The ONIC is weighing up the upcoming performance of the indigenous team in Chile and mulling over setting up a professional team soon for higher-level competitions and to make history for Colombia.

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