Colombia: Footballs are worth more than rifles; a case of the reintegration of ex-rebels.


After over 50 years of civil conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC in Spanish) and the Colombian government, a peace agreement was signed in November 2016. Wounds inflicted over decades, marked by bloody massacres, kidnappings, extortions and intense fighting are now being slowly healed by the power of sport through football. A lot of young people recruited into the FARC at ages of 17-20 who had their dreams of playing professional football dashed at the time are believing again. In fact, even during the period of the huge turmoil, they would still sacrifice to play football.

“We would carry 70 kilos [154 pounds] on our backs and walk up to 30 km [19 miles] a day upon the mountains. The first thing we would do before camping would be to clear a field with our machetes so we could play soccer. Sports have always been part of our guerrilla way of life.”
— An interviewee who has always been a soccer aspirant

After the peace agreement, close to 7, 000 former rebels are now organized into 26 transitional settlements who are run by the former commanders. Both men and women’s football teams have been neatly set up. From time to time, they play friendly matches with other villages, both civilian and other former rebels’ villages. As the ex-rebels await approval from Dimayor (Colombia's professional soccer authority) to include two B division teams, one for men and the other for women to make their footballing dreams a reality; they remain self-sustained.

The former rebels sell rifles to cover tournament travel costs and buy soccer equipment. At times they still travel for kilometers in metal boats for matches in distant villages, players, and supporters alike. The feared former FARC commander sees sports as well to reintegrate into civilian life and win hearts again as talks of forming a democratic political party continue.

“We’ve started to see an increase in local communities participating in sports events. Soccer is a way for us to win hearts and minds. For example, women’s soccer teams’ participation has increased. The fact they see our [FARC] women play has empowered women in these remote communities to organize and play.”
— The Former FARC Commander

The transitional residences are a hive of activity ranging from late night briefings on the peace process, internal issues, world global news; tutoring and jobs to maintain the living conditions. The close to 7, 000 demobilized rebels receive monthly food rations and 700, 000 Colombian pesos(around USD $250) payment each, from the government to purchase essentials.

During the time of the visit by ESPN journalists, one ex-rebels team were in an ecstatic mood after beating 94th Infantry Battalion of the Colombian Armed Forces, 11 - 5. They once met on the battlefield but now go toe to toe on the soccer pitch. The former rebels continue to wait for more support from the government and integration into civilian life is not slowing down for the beloved sons and daughters of Colombia.