Jason Kelly '95 | August 3, 2018
One does not speak directly to the king of the world. A public audience with the monarch of the Mossi people in West Africa, the Mogho Naba — literally “head of the world” — involves standards of decorum that include addressing him through intermediaries.
It stands to reason that one also does not toss a soccer ball at the Mogho Naba’s head in the playful manner one might exhibit toward a schoolchild. But the German nonprofit Spirit of Football, an organization interested in education and international goodwill led by founder and president Andrew Aris ’00, has its own rituals.
Every four years the group carries a special soccer ball, in the fashion of the Olympic torch, from the game’s modern birthplace at Battersea Park in London around the globe toward the site of the World Cup. This spring they visited 15 countries in Europe and the Middle East over three months en route to Russia. In 2010, the journey to the tournament in South Africa included a visit to the city of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and a meeting with the Mogho Naba.
At each stop, whether from heads of state, religious leaders, international soccer stars, students, Special Olympics athletes or Middle Eastern refugees, they collect signatures on the ball. Over time it becomes a marker-smudged patchwork of names blurring together to represent soccer’s unifying force. “One ball, one world,” goes their hopeful refrain.
So, how about it, Mogho Naba?
Phil Wake, a musician, magician and Spirit of Football co-founder from England, held the ball and explained the autograph procedure to the king in Burkina Faso’s official French.
“We would love to have you sign the ball, but we have just one rule: everyone who signs it has to do a header first.” And up went the ball in an arc toward the throne.
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