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Proud builders of thy greatness,
All mustered together for thy glory,
In joy will construct thee.
On March 29, 2009, the same Éléphants who had brought so much joy to Ivory Coast bore witness to a scene of horror. An overflow crowd at a World Cup qualifier in Abidjan turned into a stampede, killing 22 fans and injuring more than 130. The next day Drogba visited patients—the injured and the sick—at a local hospital. The conditions there shocked him. "There were six kids in the same small room, and some were on the floor," Drogba says. "It's crazy. If you go there your chances to survive and get better are reduced, not because of the doctors but because of the environment."
Drogba hatched a plan with his sponsors from Pepsi and his club, Chelsea. The entirety of his reported $4.4 million endorsement fee would go toward the construction of a hospital in Abidjan through the Didier Drogba Foundation. With services in pediatrics, oncology and gynecology, the hospital plans to offer inexpensive consultations to ordinary Ivorians while training Ivorian doctors and treating 250 to 500 patients a day. After acquiring donated land, Drogba raised an additional $675,000 at a charity ball in London last November that featured appearances by his Chelsea teammates and the Senegalese-American singer Akon. "Now is the time to show people in Europe and around the world that we are going to rebuild our country," Drogba says. "It's a big fight, so that's why I started to raise money. It's not enough. We need more, not only to build the hospital but to run it afterward." More charity events are in the works, and Drogba's foundation is accepting donations on its website.
For now Drogba has no plans to enter the political arena as did his friend George Weah, the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year, who lost the 2005 election for the presidency of Liberia. Drogba is on good terms with Gbagbo and Soro and keeps his political leanings to himself. "That's why people respect me in the country, because they don't know who I am supporting," Drogba says. "And they will never know. I love my position because when I have something to say I can come and say it. When I speak, I only speak for the people in the country, not for the politicians."
Perhaps it's no surprise that Drogba refrains from using the widespread term Group of Death to describe Ivory Coast's first-round draw for the World Cup, which includes world No. 1 Brazil, No. 3--ranked Portugal and an unknown quantity in North Korea. "We are the unluckiest team," says Drogba, laughing, as he recalls drawing powerhouses Argentina and the Netherlands in '06 and losing to both, 2--1, to end Les Éléphants' World Cup run. "But let's see what we can do. Let's play!"
This time there will be a big difference. The World Cup will be played on African soil. Sacred soil. "Our soil," Drogba says. On June 15 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 11 men in orange will line up shoulder to shoulder, and the Ivorian national anthem will ring out louder than ever:
Proud citizens of the Ivory Coast, the country calls us.
If we have brought back liberty peacefully,