Friday, April 24, 2009
Interview - ‘I am what I am because of my religion’ says Kolo Toure
By Zeeshan Akhtar
As I enter the gates to the Arsenal training headquarters in London Colney, I am taken aback by the quiet and calming atmosphere around the venue. I drive through the security packed entrance, park up and enter the media centre. “I’m here to interview Kolo Toure,” I say to the security officer sitting at reception. “Please make your way to the interview room,” the security officer replies with a broad smile. I make my way to the interview room and am told that Kolo is still training and will come over to speak to me as soon as the squad finish their final training session before the game against in-form Hull City.
I see the Ivorian drive up to the centre and this is soon followed by footsteps outside the door. I embrace Kolo with a firm handshake and an “Assalamu ‘Alaykum” greeting. Kolo is renowned for his pace, strength and athleticism and this is evident from his physical stature. It is a testament to his professionalism and talent that he is the longest serving member in the current Arsenal squad.
Kolo has always been proud of his roots and he joyfully describes his upbringing, his religion and his football development in the Ivory Coast. “Like all African boys, I loved playing football. I was small (in stature), but my dream was to become a footballer. I joined the Ivory Coast Academy in 1995 and we used to play football for 6 hours a day,” Kolo commented. He cites Islam and the encouragement of his parents as instrumental to the success he has enjoyed to date. “One of my friends was a Muslim, his parents were practicing and they would regularly go to the mosque. My father’s friend was an Imam and I started practicing (Islam) with them from the age of 13.”
It is now four seasons since Arsenal last won any silverware and the loss of Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb has led to many critics dismissing Arsenal’s title credentials this year. However, Kolo, with a defiant look, had an equally defiant message to all of these critics. “I think the club is strong and organised. The manager has his plan and we want to win things. If we continue to play well as we are at the moment, we’re confident they will come. We just have to stay focused and keep going, there are plenty of games to come. We’ve definitely learnt from last year and we will work to get trophies.”
I do a lot of work based at home in the Ivory Coast as people are poor out there and a lot of money is needed,” he explains. Arsenal have themselves been working on their ‘in the Community’ scheme, which works with local primary schools to embrace the diversity of Arsenal’s local and global community. Arsenal’s ‘World on Our Doorstep’ initiative celebrates multiculturalism with youngsters in the Borough and draws parallels with the Arsenal team. The Club has recently launched a Premier League funded project which focuses on the most prominent religions present in London. Using Arsenal resources along with support from Kolo Toure and Manu Eboue, Arsenal in the Community is introducing a variety of religious topics in line with the Religious Education Key Stage 2 National Curriculum. This forms part of the Club’s ‘Arsenal For Everyone’ initiative which aims to celebrate diversity and equality in all forms at Arsenal and has been set up as part of the Club’s work in conjunction with ‘Kick It Out’, football’s anti-racism campaign. There was a focus on this initiative on October 18 at the Club’s Premier League fixture against Everton at Emirates Stadium.
Despite such positive work, Islamophobia and racism in football is a current topic of debate after unsavoury scenes across many football grounds, both home and abroad. The case of Middlesbrough striker Mido being subjected to Islamophobic chants by Newcastle supporters in last year’s Tyne-Tees derby a prime example. I asked Kolo’s opinion on this subject and whether he had experienced anything unsavoury or untoward. “I’ve come up against racism in Holland when playing there, but nothing in the Premiership, it’s the best country in the world!”, was his emphatic response.
Kolo’s experiences of football in England are obviously very positive and, in such a physically demanding profession, I ask Kolo how he copes during the blessed month of Ramadan. “The first ten days are tough, but the body gets used to it after that. I don’t fast when playing because it’s dangerous but I make them up afterwards.” Kolo’s religion and profession appear to go hand in hand and so I ask Kolo whether he is aware of a growing Arsenal Muslim fan base. He smiles and says, “Yes, we have lots of Muslim fans and we are particularly aware when we go abroad to other Muslim countries.”
It is clear that faith plays an important role in Kolo’s life but it is certainly something new for his fellow professionals. As the influx of Muslim players from abroad continues, the number of questions from Kolo’s team mates will also grow. Ashley Cole was once asked what had been the strangest thing he had seen in football. His response was, “Kolo praying in the dressing room on his prayer mat.” When I put this to Kolo, he smiled and said it was his duty to show what Islam is to his team mates. “I have to explain my religious beliefs and practice all the time and I give back to my religion through this. I am what I am because of my religion. It changed my life and I am really happy to be a Muslim. We have many Muslim players at the club now – Abou Diaby, Bakary Sagna, and we all go to the mosque to pray together after training.”
It is with this final comment of such clarity that out time ends. As Kolo and I leave the room, we rush into our cars and head to the local mosque for Jum’ah (Friday) prayers. As we are about to leave, Kolo tells me Abou Diaby will meet us there.
As we arrive, Kolo donates a substantial amount of money to the development of the local mosque. He seems happy and content to donate and help people wherever and whenever he can. I get the sense that he feels God has given him the means to look after not only himself, but also the greater Muslim community, and it is with this sense of responsibility that Arsenal’s vice captain chooses to forge his legacy. Source This article is an abridged version of the original article: ‘’Interview - ‘I am what I am because of my religion’ says Kolo Toure“
by Zeeshan Akhtar of Muslim News (UK)
Thanks Yusuf Seth for the article