Goal takes a look at how football has come to the aid of the youngest African country
By Chris Oguguo,
GOAL SOUTH AFRICA
For anyone who has followed events in South Sudan since its independence, football has seemed an almost inconsequential subject, given the struggles Africa’s newest country have had to face, especially when you consider the country’s high infant mortality rate of 135.3 per 1 000, or the maternal mortality rate, which is said to be the highest in the world.
t’s understandable that football may be the most important thing for the citizens of this nascent nation.
Yet, Richard Lado and other South Sudanese footballers have tried, and are still trying, to paint a better picture, a better image of their beloved country. When you consider the challenges South Sudan have faced in its four-year history, you would agree that they need some respite.
That respite may not come in the form of the huge humanitarian needs of the country, but in the shape of a spherical object – a football.
It is with football that Lado and his teammates have tried to bring smiles to the faces of a people that have known nothing but war and famine for the better parts of their lives
Now, the captain says, the people are “behind a dream.”
Born on October 5, 1979, Richard Justin Lado became South Sudan’s first-ever football captain, despite playing his club football for Al-Hilal Omdurman in Sudan at the time, and having previously represented the Sudanese national side.
In a recent interview with fifa.com, Lado discussed his decision to switch nationalities from Sudan to South Sudan, and says it was an easy decision for him: “My family came from South Sudan, so it wasn’t a difficult choice for me, I just followed my heart.”
After officially becoming a South Sudanese national, Lado made an immediate impact and became an instant hero when he scored his country’s first-ever international goal as an independent nation.
South Sudan NT | The symbol of a new nation
It was just minutes into the friendly against Uganda at the National Stadium in Juba on July 10, 2012, South Sudan’s first-ever fixture, when Lado became his country’s first scorer.
The Bright Stars played out a 2-2 draw in front of 22 000 supporters, and a hero had been born…but Lado says it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
“We didn’t have much when we started out, there weren’t a lot of players around and we didn’t even have a coach. We were determined to build a new country, though, and make the fans happy, which is what kept us going. As time has gone by things have got better,” he tells fifa.com.
The result against Uganda saw South Sudan enter the Fifa world rankings from August of that year in 199th place, but they wouldn’t secure their first win until 12 games later, on September 5, 2015, to be precise, when Lado led his teammates to beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Remarkably, while Equatorial Guinea may not be one of the continent’s giants, they did finish fourth at the Afcon only seven months before they were vanquished by the new nation.
Four years after Independence, South Sudan secured their first-ever victory
That win, he says, has helped change the narrative of what is talked about in and about South Sudan: “all people spoke about before was war, but now they’re talking about football too. We’ve shown that we’re ready, that we can bring the country together behind a single objective, behind a dream.”
Despite the crises and civil war they have experienced as a very young country, Lado insists football has shown how united they can be as a country: “The national team is a great example of unity. The players come from every ethnic group, from all over the country, and we play in harmony.
“Now that the war is over, more players will come and we can be the best. We have to make the most of what is happening,” he continued.
Football has become a currency in South Sudan, it is a way of validating the new nation, and a way of rising above the civil war, the high infant and maternal mortality rates, famine and the HIV epidemic. Lado and co. have changed the nation, and continue to do so.
The captain says it best: “All people spoke about before was war, but now they’re talking about football too.”