Living for the ball

Ndeye Debo Seck has lost interest in local club football in Senegal. It has a lot to do with how the local game is administered.

On the beach near Toubab Dialaw in Senegal, the boys meet every evening to play soccer. Image credit Jean-Marc Liotier via Flickr.

I have an interesting relationship with football. With all my passion and love for the game, I have only attended one local football match during the past 30 years: a Nawetaan tournament match, which ended in a fight.

The Nawetaan is a three-month long annual tournament, played between July and January in every district of Senegal. It coincides with the rainy season. The movement started in the 1950s among seasonal migrants known as Nawetaan and gained prominence with the development of ASCs (socio-cultural associations). It was meant to keep students busy during holidays and have them take part in community activities and development. Currently, the Nawetaan consists of 3,500 ASCs and nearly 500,000 players. It has its own managing entity, ONCAV, with a status and procedures and has become a source of income for many people. The Nawetaan tournament is the most decentralized sporting activity in the country and is popular beyond measure.

The Nawetaan is also a place of violence and unreasoned passion. Every year, Nawetaan supporters are arrested, injured and infrastructure is damaged.

It is an understatement to say that football is the king of sports in Senegal. Many Senegalese consider May 31st, 2002 the most important date of our sports history. On that day, the Lions of Teranga, as the national team is known, beat the French Crows. Forget about Amadou Diaba’s 1988 Olympic medal, Ami Mbacke Thiam’s World Championship of 2004 and the numerous African and world champions of karate, wrestling and aikido. Also, never mind the national basketball teams’ (both women and men) African titles and World Cup participations. Nothing compares to 2002. Football is the king of sports in Senegal.

However, with all the fever the game generates, authorities have missed the opportunity to invest in sports infrastructure, sports education and security. This, despite the fact that sport competitions such as the Nawetaan tournament, are often a niche of entertainment for thousands of jobless, unqualified young people, a place of dumb violence and a strong base for local politicians.

The Senegalese Football Federation and the National Premier League were both founded at independence in 1960. Yet, since then only one Senegalese stadium meets the security and technical standards to play international matches. Last July, during a match of the professional championship, eight people died at Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar after a fight and the fall of a wall.

When there are football matches of the national team, a specific budget is always allotted for the preparation, and the supporters’ association, 12eme Gainde (the 12th Lion), is mobilized. While this is all well and good for morale of the national team, it exposes an underlying problem of football administration in Senegal: The investments in football are not relevant, they follow the dynamics of the competition and there are no ambitions to invest in infrastructures and professionalize the local championships. Above all, football centers are rare, and in essence are only breeding players for European club teams. Also, the lack of organization and management makes it a place of speculation and exploitations with destitute young players “smuggled” into Europe and never meeting their dreams of a professional career.

It is 2018 and Senegal is again playing in the World Cup. The nation is called upon to mobilize and hush any dissension or negative comment, bad omens. We’ll oblige and 15 million Senegalese which translates to 15 million supporters will cheer and back the Lions up.

Gainde ca kanam. Go ahead Lions.

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