Slain Colombia star Escobar honored in Rio

Rio de Janeiro: Campaigners using football to underpin social development Wednesday met in Rio to honor the memory of Colombian footballer Andres Escobar, slain 20 years ago to the day.

"Today, we are celebrating Andres` legacy," said Juergen Griesbeck, a German former academic moved by the shooting of Escobar to create footballstreetworld, a non-profit urban culture movement now present in some 60 countries.

Griesbeck had just married a Colombian woman when Escobar was gunned down days after his own goal against hosts the United States knocked his team out of the 1994 World Cup.

His death has been widely blamed on the fury of Colombian drug lords at losing a gambling fortune because of the country`s World Cup exit.

Various other theories exist as to why Escobar was killed outside a nightclub in Medellin, which was also hosting a commemoration of his life Wednesday.

Griesbeck said he set up streetfootballworld in 2002 as his response to urban violence, using the Escobar case as a touchstone.

"We started out as a response to the thousands of violent deaths of young people which occur every year" in Colombia.

"Football is not separate from social responsibility -- it must be embedded in society. Football is part of the peace process" in a country scarred by decades of violence, Griesbeck told AFP.

Arriving back in Colombia after his own goal Escobar had said "life doesn`t end here".

Griesbeck said streetfootballworld was designed to show his memory is a guiding light.

Some Colombian fans at this year`s World Cup in Brazil have carried pictures of Escobar to games.

The team has reached the quarter-finals for the first time and faces Brazil in Fortaleza on Friday.

Alejandro Arenas, coordinator of Colombian NGO Football and Peace, told AFP: "Escobar`s death caused so much pain.

"But despite the violence in Colombia people kept playing football as a way to transcend it.

"Escobar inspired us to use football as a tool constructing social identity, reflecting the country."

Andres Wiesner, a Colombian movie director specializing in football`s unique role as a social bond, also addressed a gathering which was treated to a samba-style rendition of `Hasta Siempre`, a Colombian soccer chant to honor Escobar.

"We must transform the pain (of Escobar`s death) into a source of inspiration. Football is the mortar of social construction," Wiesner said.

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