Wrestling Mania Grips Senegal’s Youth

Dakar, Senegal – A wrestling bonanza is generating public unease in Senegal as large pots of prize money and the sport’s soaring popularity is encouraging a growing number of boys to drop out of school to seek stardom in the arena.

Blanket media coverage and the chance for victors to escape poverty by earning up to $300,000 per contest has fired up the passion for the sport to dizzying levels, with the country’s grandees now joining the spectator.

But concern is growing that the youth are abandoning their education and jobs for a shortcut to fame without any guarantees of success, and observers point out that only a handful ever make it to the top in painfully short careers.

Boys are leaving school in the fifth or sixth grade with others turning their back on low-paid vocations as mechanics, tailors, welders, masons, and carpenters to jump on the wrestling bandwagon.

“Almost all wrestlers have abandoned their original jobs to enter the arena,” said Oumar Diarra, secretary-general of the national sportswriters’ association.

High stakes

Early in the morning young wrestling hopefuls swarm across sand dunes on the outskirts of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, to train in pursuit of an often elusive dream of wealth in a country where 54 percent of people survive below the poverty line.

At least 8,000 unemployed and disadvantaged boys registered with the CNG, the governing body of wrestling in the country. They see the sport as a potential route to success, according to Thierno Ka, the organisation’s deputy chairman.”The pursuit of money trumps all other motives for their association with the sport,” Ka said.

It is hardly surprising: A wrestler can earn between $250,000 to $300,000 for a bout, with the high stakes now attracting ministers, politicians, businesspeople, music celebrities and sports stars to stadiums.

These sums are a far cry from the sport’s roots in villages where men fought for local honour until wrestling became big business in the late 1990s as the exploits of Mohamed Ndao Tyson – styled after US boxer Mike Tyson – paved the way to lucrative bouts.

Anthropologists link the sport closely to the country’s traditional culture and fans, journalists, and tourists are drawn to spectacular bouts that begin with the national anthem, sometimes sung by stars such as Youssou N’Dour.

Promoters, brand managers, broadcasters, corporations and politicians have all cashed in, mindful of the media coverage fuelling the sport’s popularity and commercial potential.

Abou Ndour, editor of a wrestling newspaper, explained: “With the development of the media, sponsors are falling over themselves to secure visibility for their products or brand names.”

Everyone appears to be winning: Athletes’ managers claim 10 percent of the prize money, television channels and radio stations jostle for broadcasting rights, and hawkers sell T-shirts, flags and other gadgets promoting the wrestlers.

But perhaps the main beneficiaries are the marabouts – a local wrestling term for witch doctors or seers – who charge huge sums of money for magical potions or amulets to ensure victory for their “clients”.

“Marabouts are the speculators of the mysticism in wrestling,” said Ibrahima Sow, an anthropologist at Dakar University’s Fundamental Black Africa Institute.

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Author: Photo Credits: Al Jazeera

One comment
  1. EdeaMag

    Many American youth do the same for fame, fortune and money. They give up high school and college to find a short-cut route to wealth thinking they can become actors and pop stars by moving to Los Angeles or New York. These industries are adept at brainwashing.

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