There is a biblical saying that no one is a prophet in his own country; but Didier Drogba probably did not read this verse.
Greeted by hordes of adoring fans wherever he goes in his native Ivory Coast, Drogba is no stranger to nights of glory. Final Champions League success in Munich in 2012, Premier League title celebrations and playing for his country on the biggest stage of all, the World Cup; the 44-year-old has done it all in the beautiful game.
But in retirement, the former Chelsea striker has focused on giving back to the community around him and to the African continent.
Created in 2007, the Didier Drogba Foundation aimed to improve access to health care and education, help eradicate poverty, empower women and fight hunger.
In the years that followed, he brought electricity to schools, built health centers and donated to orphanages throughout Côte d’Ivoire.
To recognize the foundation’s achievements, Drogba received the inaugural CNN “Off the Pitch” award, in partnership with the Dubai Globe Soccer Awards. Now in its 13th edition, this year’s ceremony on November 17 comes just three days before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
“It means a lot to me and to the people working at the foundation,” Drogba told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “Whenever we receive help, it is the people, the children, the women who benefit the most. I’m really proud of it.
“Playing with the national team and getting all the love and support from Ivorians and Africans,” added Drogba, when asked what inspired him to start the foundation.
“I think that if I managed to have such a great career, it is also thanks to their support.”
The CNN award is recognition of Drogba’s impact on society and wider culture, as well as his charitable work.
The other nominees were both charitable foundations set up by clubs, Real Madrid and AC Milan. CNN praised the two for helping to make the sport more inclusive through global projects that educate young people about the game and the benefits it can bring them.
Drogba is also praised for his work as a World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador, a role in which he helps communities improve their physical health and general well-being.
In particular, he was an advocate for good health practices during the Covid-19 pandemic and Tedros Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, praised Drogba as a “proven champion both on and off the world”. ground”.
“I believe that movement is life. So the more you move, the more active you are, the healthier you are,” Drogba told CNN.
“We’ve seen it in this pandemic where Covid has killed a lot of people and the pandemic has been really, really difficult for people who aren’t really active or for people who already had issues.”
Drogba received his award virtually by CNN ahead of the ceremony in Dubai, where the nominees for best male player include recent Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema and the Frenchman’s Real Madrid teammate Thibaut Courtois.
On the women’s side, FC Barcelona star Alexia Putellas and England defender Lucy Bronze are in the running.
Drogba is no stranger to inspiring his compatriots, having played a notable role in encouraging a ceasefire during the first Ivorian civil war.
The national team had just made history, securing the country’s place at the 2006 World Cup, their first-ever appearance at the global tournament with a 3-1 away win over Sudan.
The captain, Cyril Domoraud, then invited the media into the dressing room after the game and passed the microphone to Drogba, then the team’s star striker.
“Men and women of Côte d’Ivoire”, he said objectively, with a stern and sincere face. “From the north, south, center and west, we proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a common goal: to qualify for the World Cup.”
The bloody civil war would kill around 4,000 people and displace more than a million. Drogba’s speech and the team’s qualification for the World Cup helped convince the government and opposing new forces to hold a ceasefire and resume peace talks.
In early 2007, the two warring parties signed a formal peace accord, prompting President Laurent Gbagbo to declare the war over.
“It worked well because that message was on the midday and evening news every day for six months. And we managed to get [a] cease fire. This is the impact that a message like this from a football player can have [that]”Drogba told CNN.
Despite his influence over Ivorians and his recent failed bid for the presidency of his country’s football association, Drogba has stressed that he has no political ambitions.
“It has nothing to do with politics. I want a healthy continent,” he said. “I want a place where Africans can go abroad and play and come back to their country and enjoy and to have a good life. That’s all I want.”