Sport and culture were the two predominant themes on the agenda for Juventus and UNESCO during their final leg of a five-day stay in Africa.
The delegation led by Juventus Legends president David Trezeguet and UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Public Information Eric Falt began the last stage of its trip with a Sunday morning visit to the academy of AS Real Bamako, a club founded in 1960 and currently plying its trade in the top division of Malian football.
Trezeguet had already gained an insight into the history of the football team when he met its most illustrious alumnus, former African footballer of the year Salif Keita, the previous evening, and now it was time for him to view the academy for himself.
Little has changed since Keita used to grace the local playing fields in the early sixties and with 287 players to cater for using modest training facilities, president Diadie Toure admits he and his staff face several challenges in keeping the club running smoothly on a daily basis.
What isn’t an issue, though, is the sheer enthusiasm for the beautiful game, as witnessed by Trezeguet whilst he looked around the complex, accompanied by a crowd of approximately 200 wearing the black and white stripes of Juventus, playing music and performing traditional dances.
Explaining the reason behind the visit, Falt said: “The staff here work in difficult conditions but clearly have similar objectives to ours. They know that football is very important and a useful tool in providing an education for the young people at the club.
“It was important for us to show solidarity with one of Mali’s leading football clubs and encourage them in a project that bears a lot of similarities with the joint venture between Juventus and UNESCO.”
From the history of Malian football to that of the country itself: the National Museum of Mali, located in the ground of Bamako’s Botanic Gardens, provided the next stop of the delegation’s Sunday tour.
Originally opened as the Sudanese Museum in 1953 but changed to its present title following independence in 1960, its aim is to honour Malian culture through exhibits of the musical instruments, paintings, dress, and ritual objects that have been associated with the country’s various ethnic groups throughout history.
Culture remained at the forefront of the delegation’s visit as they made their way to the home of SAVAMA-DCI NGO, a project seeking to defend Islamic traditions by the preservation of ancient manuscripts.
The vast majority of these manuscripts originate from Timbuktu, the country’s historic city that was first seized by rebels in April 2012, marking the start of a 10-month occupancy.
Their stay in the UNESCO-listed world heritage site saw artefacts and statues destroyed and precious medieval manuscripts either burnt or stolen from the state archive.
What the rebels weren’t aware of, however, was that special efforts were being made by librarians to smuggle texts dating back as far as the eleventh century away from the conflict-torn north and down to the more stable south.
The dedicated operation saw more than 400,000 manuscripts reclaimed, over 95 per cent of Timbuktu’s total stock, and Trezeguet and Falt witnessed the hard work and dedication that goes in to the restoration of these priceless cultural works thanks to a series of practical demonstrations by the volunteers.
One more important appointment remained for the group before their return to Europe: dinner with Mali’s Minister for National Reconciliation Affairs, Zahabi Ould Sidi Mohamed, who expressed his hope that the work of Juventus and UNESCO can continue to help those must vulnerable.
Speaking ahead of his departure, Trezeguet reflected on an extremely positive personal experience in Africa before calling on the public’s support to ensure these social reinclusion projects keep going from strength to strength.
He said: “It’s been a unique experience and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the history of the Central African Republic and Mali. From speaking to people here you realise that our problems aren’t like theirs and it really does put everything into perspective.
“Seeing the projects and the progress made so far makes me aware that our partnership with UNESCO can make a difference. I would like to personally invite fans to buy their tickets for the Juventus Legends match with Boca Juniors on September 8 and help us raise money for a great cause.”