When the Ebola outbreak occurred in Liberia in 2014, one of the biggest cultural impacts was the government’s decision last June to ban all soccer play in an effort to reduce to spread of the virus through physical contact. With the number of cases declining, the ban on soccer was lifted in January. Nearly 5,000 people died before the country was declared Ebola-free this past May.
This summer, a three-day tournament took place in Logan Town, a community north of Monrovia, that consisted of both men’s soccer matches and women’s kick ball games. The tournament was played on a large, muddy patch of oddly-shaped common area, which included the only road into that part of Logan Town. As such, the goals (made out of netting and tree branches) were not placed directly opposite each other, and a large delivery truck drove across the field repeatedly interrupting play.
A party-like atmosphere surrounded the event, with loud music playing and many people drinking cheap booze out of small plastic bottles. Younger kids watched the matches eagerly, jockeying for every opportunity to run after an out-of-bounds ball and throw it back into play.
When the last soccer match came down to a penalty shootout, a thick mob of people formed around the goal. Team bragging rights and a small cash prize were on the line. The kick was good and celebrations could finally begin.
FIFA World Cup Qualifying Match
Liberia Lone Stars v. Guinea-Bissau
On Oct. 8, 2015 Liberia’s national team, the Lone Stars, played Guinea-Bissau in a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match, which was held on a regulation field at Antoinette Tubman Stadium in central Monrovia. Following the Ebola outbreak and the ban of soccer in the country in 2014, the stadium was converted for use as an Ebola Treatment Unit. Now back to it’s originally intended use, rowdy, celebrating Liberians packed the stadium for the match, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
A week later, Liberia pulled off an unexpected win against Guinea-Bissau. Liberia is now scheduled to play Ivory Coast in a second-round qualifying match on Nov. 11. “If Liberia loses, there will be a riot,” one fan said. “If we win, there will still probably be a riot.”