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Playing Soccer in Abidjan? Get Yourself a Pair of Lêkê.

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Africa|Playing Soccer in Abidjan? Get Yourself a Pair of Lêkê.

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/07/world/africa/ivory-coast-leke-africa-cup-of-nations.html

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Ivory Coast dispatch

In Ivory Coast, where a major tournament has drawn the continent’s best teams, a plastic sandal is the preferred gear for pickup games and almost everything else.

A soccer player stands over a dirty soccer ball on a dusty field covered in footprints. He is wearing white plastic sandals known as lêkê.
Young players wearing lêkê in Abidjan, where worn soles and scars from the sandals’ metallic clasps are a point of pride.

Elian PeltierJoao Silva

By Elian Peltier

Photographs by Joao Silva

Elian Peltier and the photographer Joao Silva roamed the streets of Abidjan and its Maracanas, the sandy soccer pitches dotting the city.

The wealthy pros of Ivory Coast’s national soccer team were resting in their luxury hotel last week, preparing for a match in Africa’s biggest tournament, when Yaya Camara sprinted onto a dusty lot and began fizzing one pass after another to his friends.

Over and over, he corralled the game’s underinflated ball and then sent it away again with his favorite soccer shoes: worn plastic sandals long derided as the sneaker of the poor, but which he and his friends wear as a badge of honor.

Shiny soccer cleats like his idols’? No thanks, said Mr. Camara, a lean 18-year-old midfielder, as he wiped sweat from his brow.

“How did the pros started playing when they were kids like us? With lêkê,” he added, referring to the sandals that are ubiquitous not only in his pickup game but almost any place an Ivorian puts their feet.

While the best African teams run out in expensive branded cleats at this year’s continental soccer championship, the Africa Cup of Nations, it is in lêkê (pronounced leh-keh) that amateur players craft the best street soccer.

They praise the cheaper sandals for their practicality — “They’re lighter, they fit better and they’re more comfortable where we play,” as Mr. Camara put it — in games that take place not on manicured grass fields in shiny new stadiums but on countless sandy pitches, dusty courtyards and narrow alleyways.


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