In Colombia, an Unlikely Soccer Match Brings Together Victims and Former Combatants


In 1998, Colombian filmmaker Sergio Cabrera released “Time Out,” a fictional comedy in which guerrilla members and soldiers — usually mortal enemies — call a momentary truce, a time out, to watch the national soccer team play in the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup.

Twenty years later, former combatants of both sides, members of the security forces, and victims of the conflict came together at Llano Grande in the region of Dabeiba to watch Cabrera’s film and play a game of soccer.* The turn of events made manifest the unlikely encounter that the nation had imagined only as fiction.

At Llano Grande, former members of paramilitary and guerilla groups (FARC, ELN, and AUC) as well as members of the National Police convened for a two-day retreat organized by UNDP and the ICTJ. They sat together, in an almost exact reenactment of the 1998 movie, wearing Colombian jerseys, to watch Colombia face off with Japan for the 2018 World Cup.

Later, in a powerful act of reconciliation, the participants played a soccer match themselves in an open field amidst the mountainous terrain.

Although Colombia went on to lose the match against Japan, a mood of triumph at Llano Grande prevailed. “Even though we have lost the match in Russia, we won the match here by a landslide,” said Carlos Velandia, a former member of the ELN. “Colombia has already won the World Cup, because we are living in peace,” added Pastor Alape, a former member of the FARC.

 The former combatants even had the chance to talk with Cabrera about his film and to engage in a dialogue with the members of the Dabeiba community. For many participants, sharing their feelings about the conflict had until then been inconceivable.

“During the 26 years I was in the war, there was no space for guerrilla and paramilitary to coexist. It was us or them; 1,138,000 square kilometers were not enough for us to coexist,” said Ivan Roberto Duque, a former AUC political leader. “Today, we are in a 70 square meter space and we fit. We are able to look at each other, hug each other. I could not have imagined this scenario. In spite of our differences, we are united by everything good that is going on in Colombia.”

For Yolanda Perea, a victim of FARC-EP, peace is a matter of personal will. “Let us disarm these hearts, let us work hand in hand. Nothing in life comes easily…This country belongs to everybody.”

* Llano Grande is one of the Territorial Training and Reintegration Zones established by the peace agreement that ended Colombia’s 50-year conflict to train former combatants for reintegration into civilian life. One hundred forty former combatants and their families live the zone, working in agricultural projects involving lulo, passion fruits, beans, and corn.

PHOTO: One of the players watches the reconciliation match from the sidelines during the two-day retreat in 2018. (ICTJ)