Until Professor Chuck Korr opened 70 cardboard boxes marked "Sports" in a corner of the Robben Island Archives, he had no idea that any sport had been played at South Africa's infamous apartheid-era prison. What he found within was the utterly compelling history of the prisoners' successful struggle to form the Makana Football Association, whose league was conducted under strict Fifa rules and grew to encompass over 1,000 players in a wealth of teams, competing in three divisions.
Far more than mere recreation, "football gave a group of prisoners sanity and, in a way, gave us the resolve to carry on the struggle", in the words of one inmate, while also helping to hone organisational skills. And it seemed to work; one of the more extraordinary facts Korr reveals is that there was not one recorded suicide among the prisoners, though a number of warders killed themselves. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa will have a far larger audience, but the matches will not be nearly as important as those played on Robben Island.
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